Friday, 21 October 2011

My New Hero Kenyan Farmer Kimani Maruge! It's never to late to learn.

It’s been an amazing week! What with the Rugby World Cup. I am very proud to be a New Zealander & to see the fantastic rugby the All Blacks play. A very interesting week on UK pasture based dairy farms too.
This week I watched an amazing DVD called “First Grader” an award winning 2011 film about the Kenyan hero “Kimani Maruge”.
 Kimani Maruge (a farmer) was a 1950’s Mau Mau veteran who arrived at a tiny rural primary school as an 84 year old man determined to get an education after the Kenyan government offered “free education for all”. Kimani holds the record as the oldest person ever to start primary school. His determination to get an education was truly inspirational.
I doubt many people outside of Kenya have ever heard of Kimani Maruge. What a guy, what a hero. What a farmer! I doubt many people have ever heard of his Primary School Teacher Jane Obinchu either but what a gutsy lady, what an inspiration!
Watching the film First Grader made me think about several very important issues regarding Dairyfarmer education.
  1. We don’t know how lucky we really are in this country…we have all had an opportunity of a good education. I wonder if we really value that opportunity?
  2. Education continues all our life. Adult self directed learning is continuous & under our control. It’s up to us….”If it’s going to be it’s up to me”.
  3. During this past week I watched as pasture based dairy farmers learnt from each other, where information & experience was freely given & willingly accepted. I watched the young & inexperienced learn from the experienced & wise. However I also witnessed the older willingly learn from the young. It was a privilege to watch such an amazing process.
Pasture based dairy farmers in the UK are incredibly active adult learners & the on farm changes that have occurred in the past decade are quite extraordinary. The efficiency gains are pushing biological boundaries of what is physically possible in agriculture. Sadly this green revolution has been largely  unnoticed nor acknowledged in the UK. However countless pasture based dairy farmers who have embraced change are now in a really strong position as Sustainable Farming Businesses.
I want to tell you about my week of learning with farmers.
I joined the Realfarmers Discussion Group in Dorset meeting at a farm which is “on a journey” or at the beginning of the journey. Currently there are no tracks & the calving blocks are at the early stages of being sorted. The first cross bred cows are entering the herd. Mark & his father were keen to meet with the group as they are hungry for ideas. Mark played a star role in a recent video about pasture based dairy farming.
I greatly admired Mark’s dad Charlie….he is encouraging & guiding his son into this new system of which there are plenty of distracters & “non believers”. That really takes courage & foresight, but there he was this week listening intently to a group of young herdsman.
Each one of us has an idea of what permanent pasture is & looks like. However I had that (my) concept severely tested when I visited one of Oxford University’s farms on the outskirts of Oxford city. FAI is the tenant and we were inspecting the pastures on this farm set up to run as a Sustainable Farming system.
FAI Farms has a concept of the 3e’s of sustainability. The 3e’s are Environment, Economics, & Ethical Strategies which include animal welfare & social sustainability. All went well on our farm walk until I was confronted with permanent pastures that are at least a 1000 yrs old. Alison McDonald the pasture ecologist explained that these flood meadows have not ever been ploughed. Oxford University historical records show no record of ploughing. It was intriguing …in a square metre there would have been maybe 30 different “pasture” species none of which I have ever seen before.
The field that is known as "Pixey Mead" is cut each year for hay in July then grazed between August & October in an attempt to replicate “Common land” grazing management prior to enclosure in England.
We ventured onto “Wolvercote Meadows” which is partly within the city boundaries of Oxford. The last time these “permanent pastures” were cut for hay was in 1642 when King Charles 1 needed feed for his horses during the English Civil war.
Alison was very definite about the date of the last hay cut as records show that his men refused to cut the hay the next year because they hadn’t been paid for the first year’s haymaking. Something’s in the rural community don’t change do they??
I was very privileged to join a Seasoned Cookery course run by chef Jeff Thomas & Seasoned entrepreneur Clare Tetley. The cookery course was about cooking “Under Utilized Cuts of Meat”. What a brilliant idea! In the UK we waste so much of carcass because we simply don’t know how to cook this meat. What a shameful waste of protein. Usually it’s a simple matter of doing a slow cook rather than a fast fry up. I’m talking about cuts like pig’s cheek, pork belly, Lamb neck fillets & Onglette or skirt fillets of beef. Wonderful cuts of meat that cooked well are so tasty. Again at this day there were the young & the slightly older teaching each other the skills & enjoyment of cooking good quality meat. A great day…close to heaven I’d say!
Clare also runs a grass fed beef day where participants learn about Andrew Sebire’s organic grass fed beef at Lower Hurst Farm.
One of the dishes we learnt about from Chef Jeff Thomas was Staffordshire Veal Sausages. This was rose veal that was reared on a pasture based dairy farm to utilize the male calves born in a spring block calving system. No dairy farmer likes disposing of these animals & again what a shameful waste of protein. Rose veal is not in any way similar to white veal but for quite stupid reasons in the UK veal is really difficult to purchase. Why? Why do we allow this ignorance to interfere with the production of healthy grass fed beef? Partly responsible is the press including the BBC which won’t allow veal recipes to be used in the various cooking programs like Master chef. The supermarkets are partly to blame as well. Whereas the Soil Association & McDonalds should be congratulated on their efforts, to get Rose Veal back on our dining tables.
Let’s start a grass fed Rose Veal Campaign!
Research shows that farmers are very active adult learners. Farmers learn from other farmers very effectively. We have two huge advantages over my new hero Kimani Maruge..1. We all had good basic educations that included reading & writing. We are so very lucky! 2. The UK pasture based dairy farmers have a wonderful network of pasture based dairy farmers many of whom farm in different countries around the world & with the internet & smart phones we can not only talk to each other but learn from each other. What a privilege education really is. We are so very lucky!
What a true hero, Kenyan farmer Kimani Maruge was!

Current UK Pasture Measurements
Pasture growth has slowed dramatically all over the UK due to colder temperatures. Grazing conditions very good.
Rugby on Sunday will be seriously good. Good luck to my French friends I think you will need all the luck to pull this off. C'Mon the All Blacks.
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)

Cumbria, AFC 2475, growth 20,
North Wales, 2400, gr 35 demand 40, excellent autumn conditions, cant believe RWC  last Saturday???
Shropshire, 1780, gr 15, de 10 no significant rain only 10mm this month
Hereford, 2316, growth 26, demand 25, grazed 36% of farm since 1st Oct
Gloucestershire, AFC 2465, growth 50
SW Wales, AFC 2898, growth 28, demand 38.
Pembrokeshire, AFC 2580, gr 45, demand 36,
Devon, 2800, growth 40,
Dorset, 2689, gr 37, grazing 4200, residuals 1400 not feeding silage.
Dorset, AFC 2400, growth 10, Start feeding silage 2moro. Good luck for RWC.
East Sussex, AFC 1900, growth 15.
Cornwall, AFC 2760, growth 45, demand 38,   200T of Fodder Beet for sale

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