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April 2005

Pasture Perfect®

1. Our Sacred Grass

In the bible it is written "All flesh is grass".

At the bottom of the land-life pyramid is the soil. The soil supports the worms, bacteria, fungi and other microbes that decompose rocks, minerals and organic matter. All land plants derive their sustenance from the soil, the air, the rain and the microbes, some of whom live in symbiosis with the plants. These valiant few are the sum total of land-based primary food producers.

Standing on the shoulders of these primary food producers (soil, microbes and plants) are the predators and parasites - insects, birds, herbivores, omnivores, carnivores and all mankind. At the top of the food pyramid sit the greatest parasite of all, the tax collector.

Of all the primary food producers on earth, grass is by far the most important - without all the native and domesticated grasses, most of mankind and all his farmed animals would starve. Grass is indeed the sacred plant on earth and those fools prepared to sacrifice our valuable grasslands for protected forests deserve to sit down to a breakfast of wattle seeds, pine chips, witchetty grubs and boiled ironbark.

Viv and tall grass

Forests are not even the great carbon sinks that the tree huggers would have us believe - research at Iowa State University found that rotation grazed pasture took twice as much carbon dioxide out of the air as did forest land, fixing it in the soil as organic matter. And the more intensely the pasture was managed, the more soil carbon it sequestered. (Eatwild.com) This corresponds with a Daintree study which was surprised to find how little net carbon a mature forest took from the air.

2. The Evolutionary Imperative

Homo sapiens is a hunter-gatherer (today the gathering happens in the supermarket). For at least 2 million years, our ancestors have survived mainly on the herbivores of the grasslands, supplemented with eggs, birds, seafood, wild fruit and vegetables. As populations increased and hunting territories became better defined and protected, tribes learned to conserve and harvest the herbivores within their territory. Sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, donkeys and horses became domesticated. Then somewhere in the Middle East, it was discovered that cereal grasses could be planted and harvested. Good soil and grasses became valued possessions, property rights developed and farming emerged.

For centuries, organic farming with diversified species maintained a sustainable farming system. Then, in the twentieth century, chemical fertilisers and massive machinery lead to the development of factory-farming mono-cultures. Massive continuous production and export of crops drained the minerals from the top soil to be replaced by unbalanced application of NPK chemicals. Feedlot farms and fast foods factories now feed both man and his animals. The major and insidious components of all fast foods are refined sugar, refined salt, refined processed grains, unbalanced proteins and artificial fats.

The speed of recent change is too fast for evolution to keep up - if the whole history of Homo sapiens was condensed into one year, we have been farming grains for about one day. And only for the last 45 minutes or so have refined grains and sugar become a dominant food source for man and all of his domesticated animals - feedlot grain, pasta and spaghetti, cake and biscuits, bread and buns, weetbix and rice cakes, corn flakes and muffins - every meal is dominated by grain and sugar products.

3. The Flintstone Diet

Mankind evolved eating red meat, fruit and vegetables. And that red meat was raised in totally free range conditions on natural pasture. Research is continually showing that this diet is better for our health in all ways.

Our modern diet is totally at odds with the diet of the Cave Man and diet of the game he hunted. Both we and our animals have abandoned "The Flintstone Diet" for "The Factory Food Diet". (I'll bet that neither Fred flintstone nor Hagar the Horrible started the day with a breakfast of croissants and decaf).

This ignorance of our Evolutionary Imperative will have serious consequences. The problems emerged first in the 20th Century and will become disastrously plain in this century, which may become known as "The century of ill health". Cancer, obesity, allergies, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, alzheimers and heart disease are all symptoms of the 20th century diet. Nobel Prize winning bio-chemist, Linus Pauling put his finger on the problem when he said "Every disease has a nutritional cause." Joel Wallach with hundreds of autopsies and observations of animals and humans to rely on made the same statement (he is a soil scientist, vet and GP).

4. Grain is for the Birds

All living things try to protect the next generation, and plants are no different. Therefore they go to some trouble to discourage animals from digesting their seeds. Cereal grains contain enzyme inhibitors, which prevent digestive enzymes from working. Grains are thus not easily digested unless sprouted. Birds have their own inbuilt sprouter, called a crop, and are thus the only predator equipped to eat grain seeds with impunity. Grains also contain phytic acid, which tends to rob the body of minerals (especially calcium, iron and zinc) and are deficient in other minerals. Un-sprouted grains are also deficient in many vitamins and amino acids.

If crushed or heated, grains are more digestible, but being so high in starch, play havoc with the internal environment of ruminants and humans. They cause acidosis, which leads to many other health problems such as arthritis and allergies.

The wild game on which humans evolved lived on grasses, herbs, browse and minor amounts of grass seeds. The grasses tend to produce seeds which ripen naturally before or during winter. This gave the animals an energy boost when most needed, and allowed them to store some fat for the coming winter famine. Now we have a clue where our epidemic of obesity is coming from? It is not the lamb chops, or the eggs, or the butter - it comes from the weetbix, the muffins, the sugar and the toast.

Grains are a concentrated package of starch and protein designed to nourish the baby plant. Grains are thus valued in factory feedlots as the concentrated energy and protein produces quick growth, and quick fattening.

But it does terrible things to the health of the animals and to the quality of the food produced in these feedlot concentration camps.

Grain feeding decreases the fertile lifespan of ruminants - bulls show reduced semen counts and cows fed grain need more veterinary attention and have reduced life. Grain fed animals have the same problems as humans in acidosis and arthritis. Many problems could be detailed, but the bottom line is this - all animals (ruminants, horses and poultry) when fed concentrated unsprouted grain, have a shorter life span than those animals grazing on green pasture.

5. Hippie Diet or Flintstone Diet?

For decades, meat and dairy industries have suffered from the criticism that red meat and dairy products are unhealthy. We are still urged by government health nannies to avoid or cut down on those foods on which all of our genetic ancestors led healthy lives. This has caused a huge shift towards the Hippy diet of weetbix, margarine, muffins and soy milk. History is starting to show that the biggest modern health hazard is "Listening to Government Health Advice".

It is now becoming clear that firstly, there are huge health hazards in the Hippie Diet, and secondly, the problems identified in the Flintstone diet are caused mainly by how we now raise our animals. It is not the type of food, it is how we raise it. Red meat and dairy are not the problem - the problem is what our meat and dairy animals are fed.

6. Pasture Perfect® Food

Actions have consequences.

We cannot evolve for millennia on the Cave Man diet, and then jettison it all in one century without seeing some morbid results. We may evolve a race of animals that can live long healthy lives on a diet of pulverised grain, brewery waste, stale bread, carrot tops, chicken feathers, shredded cardboard, waste confectionery and other garbage and a race of slim healthy humans living on this nutrient deficient factory protein, fairy floss buns, French fries and diet coke, but there will be a lot of casualties before that happens. Who knows who or what will survive - probably rats, cockroaches, crows and pigs?

Every day reveals more health benefits of pastured food as compared to grain fed or factory feedlot food. We do not have the time, space or skill to detail them all here, but compared to feedlot grain fed animals, naturally raised pasture fed food:

  • contains less residue of hormones, antibiotics and chemicals
  • brings lower risk of contacting E coli
  • has been raised more humanely
  • produces less waste and consumes less energy
  • has higher vitamin content, especially Vits A, E, folic acid and beta-carotene
  • has greater percentage of good Omega 3 fats
  • has lower overall fat content
  • has 2-5 times more CLA, the cancer and heart disease fighter

What about Organic Food? This is better than Feedlot Food, in that there will be less contamination with chemicals, hormones and antibiotics. But ruminants could still be fed grain (organic of course) and denied minerals their bodies and ours need. It is not necessarily top class food.

What we need is "Pasture Perfect Food" where:

  • animals are born and raised naturally
  • they roam free range pasture and have never been confined in a feedlot
  • use of artificial growth promotants, preservatives or additives is banned
  • there is no routine use of antibiotics
  • there is no feeding of grain products
  • animals are humanely treated, and unstressed at slaughter
  • if supplementary feeding is necessary, natural unprocessed feeds that enhance the nutritional value of the animal products are used. Organic supplements are preferred.
  • soils are tested for mineral deficiencies and corrected by soil applications or animal supplements
  • parasites are controlled as much as possible without artificial chemicals.
  • animals have good access to clean water
  • multi-species grazing on family farms preferred
  • there is minimal processing or refining of food

7. Quality or Quantity

Food consumers today are faced with a stark choice - quality or quantity?

In the mainstream food industry, the emphasis is on maximum production at minimum cost. As Jo Robinson says "the primary objective is to raise animals as quickly as possible for the least amount of money in the least amount of space with only minimal attention paid to the well being of the animals or the workers." She could have added "or the nutrient density of the food produced".

A growing minority of thinking consumers reject this concept on humane grounds. When they realise the cost to human health, the minority will swell suddenly. There will always be a place for factory food for those people who judge their food by quantity and price alone. But there will be a growing place for "Pasture Perfect" food, and that is the niche for the battling family farm. There will be people prepared to pay more to buy food raised according to standards of value they share.

Accordingly, Sherana has registered our Trade Mark - Pasture Perfect®. We intend to promote it for our pasture perfect sheep, cattle and poultry. We will also licence others who satisfy our criteria to use it.

Reference: Jo Robinson, 2004, "Pasture Perfect - the far reaching benefits of choosing Meat, Eggs and Dairy Products from Grass Fed Animals", Vashon Island Press, Washington ISBN 0-9678116-1-9

www.eatwild.com. (Contact us if you would like a copy of this book.)

8. "Wilti" and other four letter words.

Mother-of-All-Things prefers damaras to every other living thing (including the Rouseabout). At the other end of the scale are dorpers ("Fence crawling, bunch quitters"), turkeys ("No brains at all") and the White Wolf ("Useless dog!" when she sits in the gateway in front of a mob of dorpers). But we have all moved up a peg in the popularity stakes - Wiltshire Horn are now in the pits, so much so that if a dorper tries to bunch-quit, she gets told "Don't be such a Wilti".

A couple of years back, the Rouseabout was sent delivering sheep. On the way home he was talked into buying some Wiltshire Horn ewes. MOAT was sceptical "Why did you bring those things home?" But, in the interests of becoming well informed on all sheep breeds and how much they can be improved by crossing with damaras, she accepted them into the damara mob.

What have we learned about Wiltis? Firstly they are loners, and do not want to be seen in any mob. When MOAT went to bring home the damaras, every sheep would be in one tight mob, down near the gate, except three Wiltis, miles apart, up the sides of the hills quietly observing the mad woman shouting at them. They remain in that position until MOAT climbs the hill, when they may deign to run home. One day she came home fuming, almost reduced to swear words - "We've got to get rid of those insolent little sods" (which is really foul language for MOAT).

Other disadvantages of Wiltis - they are very slow breeders - seems like one per year. Good points... they are not fence crawlers, and when crossed with damara, the offspring have much improved herding instinct.

9. Dial-a-Sheep

We are delivering more sheep to more places - it depends on whether we have a full load to the one area, whether we have time and whether we feel like a tour to that area. All that discriminatory behaviour is probably illegal, but we are discriminating people. If you are interested in sheep delivered to your door, contact us. Email is best.

We have a new ram in the Damara breeding flock - "Navaho", who is the quietest damara we have ever bred, as well as having good structure and coat. We hope he produces a crop of calm good shedding lambs.

10. Drought Discounts

With great restraint, I have not whinged about the drought until Sec 10 in this report. But, this looks like the Grandmother of all droughts (the above picture of our rare sacred grass was taken about 12 months ago after one flash storm) . So we have introduced "Drought Discounts" which will apply until, either it rains, or we reduce our flocks by 20%. Any price we have quoted in the past (before 1st March 2005) we will now reduce by 20%. Even better if you take a heap of sheep (especially Wiltis).

11. The April Fool Dog

Just before smoko on April 1st, Fixit was covered in grease underneath the Bush Buggy and Rouseabout was glued to his computer screen. MOAT sneaks quietly upstairs onto the verandah and shouts "Come quick, there is a Black dog among the sheep."

This created pandemonium.

Fixit bumped his head getting out from under, knocked over the oil, swore a little and tore up the stairs. Rouseabout started the long process of unlocking the gun cabinet, extracting the Howard registered gun, finding the safely stored bolt, and getting bullets from another locked safe. All the while MOAT is screaming "Hurry up he's heading for the damara flock" (I remember thinking, "If a dingo got among the Wiltis she would probably look the other way").

At last we were all assembled on the verandah looking for the black dog - "Big April Fools" says MOAT. All parties then stayed on the verandah for a few minutes, debating a suitable punishment for MOAT (as it was BEFORE smoko, our hands were a bit tied.) MOAT suddenly asked "What are those magpies attacking on the road?" Eerily, it WAS a black dog heading for the damara flock - no one had seen it before, but it really was there.

Rouseabout, without seeking government approval, took a quick shot. It went close, sprayed the dog with gravel and bowled him over, but he jumped up and took off, straight up the hill towards the now alerted damara flock and their guardian llama, Waldo. The damaras immediately flocked together, a survival response learned on the plains - "bunch quitters get eaten". Waldo went on Red Alert and placed himself between the fleeing dog and the flock. Rouseabout dusted a couple more shots after the dog who decided that, all things considered, he should get off this property with all speed, which he did.

Who says there is no such thing as sixth sense?

(Thru all of this the dorpers, who were also close to the raider, did not notice any problem and continued eating.)

12. Pasture Perfect® Turkeys

Not only does pasture feeding produce healthy food in ruminants, but Pasture Perfect®. Poultry also has positive health benefits. (Refer: Jo Robinson, "Pasture Perfect")

Turkeys, chooks, Senepol beef cattle, Jersey milkers and sheep live harmoniously together at Sherana. Let's know if you would like to get our next cattle newsletter on SENEPOL and SENERJY cattle.

13. Dogs, Worms and Poison Plants

These are the main dangers to sheep.

Dogs are a problem everywhere - the owners' dogs, the neighbours' dogs, wild dogs and government protected dogs (not yet, but wait). Every sheep owner must assume he will suffer an attack unless he has good fences, good night yards or good protectors (guard dogs, llamas, alpacas, cattle, horses, donkeys or Grandma with a rifle.)

Worms are the next problem, and again Grandma has a solution. It came about this way:

Our local minister decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon. Four worms were placed into four separate jars.

  • The first worm was put into a jar of alcohol.
  • The second worm was put into a jar of cigarette smoke.
  • The third worm was put into a jar of chocolate syrup.
  • The fourth worm was put into a jar of good clean soil

At the conclusion of the Sermon the Minister reported the following results:

  • The first worm in alcohol - Dead.
  • The second worm in cigarette smoke - Dead.
  • Third worm in chocolate syrup - Dead.
  • Fourth worm in good clean soil - Alive.

So the Minister asked the congregation - What can you learn from this demonstration?

Grandma quickly raised her hand and said, "As long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won't have worms!"

For those who do not drink smoke or eat chocolate, you may find some more boring information on worms at www.wormboss.com.au

We may say more about worms and poison plants next newsletter - Rouseabout is getting tired today, and MOAT is asking "What fairy stories are you concocting all this time?"

14. Damaras are Different - the Brahmans of the Meat Sheep World

Brahman cattle were introduced into Australia by a few open-minded far-seeing cattlemen to give hardiness, drought tolerance and tick resistance to the soft British cattle herd. They were alert, agile, intelligent, suspicious and easy to spook. They survived droughts, fought predators, protected their calves and improved every breed of cattle they were crossed with. Because of these valuable features, Brahmans and Brahman cross cattle now dominate the Northern cattle herds of Australia.

However, their road was not always easy. The first graziers who got them were ostracised by their neighbours, and were forced to improve boundary fences to avoid rows. (As late as the 1960's, MOAT's father used to sool the dogs onto his neighbour's roaming Brahman bull in case he got amongst the snooty Hereford ladies.) The Qld Country Life refused ads for Brahman cattle because of complaints by Hereford breeders. Brahmans were discounted in the sale yards because "They look like Yaks". Cattle yards had to be improved. Buyers used to uniform lines of docile white-faced or red cattle pommy cattle were deterred by these boisterous multicoloured slab-sided Zebu cattle. It was said their tough meat would damage the meat market.

Does all that sound a bit like the early history of damaras? "They look like goats, they are too feisty, they are not meaty enough, buyers will discount them, they are all colours, they may downgrade my pure merinos etc etc. . . . ."

As the first damaras now reach the local meat sale yards, competitors spread scare stories, butchers baulk and feedlotters find faults. In essence they are all confirming what we enthusiasts know "DAMARAS ARE DIFFERENT".

However, the damara story will parallel the Brahman story. Already damara hardiness is being reported daily from the drought areas - "Merinos and cattle dying while damaras survive and raise lambs." And their low cost is making itself felt - no crutching, no shearing, no tail docking, no grass seed problem and fewer losses to predators.

There is always a Wilderness before the Promised Land.

Some faint hearts turn back once they hit the wilderness, and try something more acceptable to the establishment, like dorpers. Despite what MOAT used to say, Dorpers are good sheep, with many qualities that complement the Damara, just like Angus and Hereford complement the Brahman. But no one at Longreach, Katherine or Wyndham would base his beef herd on pure Angus cattle or his meat sheep flock on pure dorper ewes. More hardy breeds like Damaras and Brahman will always emerge as the preferred base breed, topped up with softer flavours of choice. (MOAT says "Charles (the dorper ram) is puffed out after he walks home. How would he every walk 3 km to water and back?")

So, despite the doubters and knockers, there is a great future for Damaras both on their own and as the base breed for Meatmasters. And the best way to breed Meatmasters is to put Dorper rams over Damara or Damara Cross ewes. That is the sound future for the damara breed. So Damara breeders should not lose themselves in the Wilderness.

There is a promised land.

Bye for now.

(PS we prefer to send this newsletter by email (printing and postage costs too much) so if you have an email address we would appreciate that advice. Please let us know if you wish to also get our Cattle Report, or no more newsletters whatsoever.

Best Wishes for Rain

From Mother-of-All-Things, Fixit, the Rouseabout, the White Wolf, the Hunting Dog, Leopard, Mrs Fat and the twins, Waldo & Poncho, Testosterone Tex, father of all turkeys, and all the other Ovines, Bovines and Raptors (not allowed to mention the Wiltis again).

Viv & Judy Forbes

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