What happens when a teacher/graphic designer/ceramicist and a sound engineer/internet technician/solar expert move to an out of the way property to run a guesthouse and farm?
Kait and Andre Kauerauf of Bramleigh Farm brought a variety of skills to their forest-side property (owned by Andre’s family) and created something much bigger than the sum of its parts. “Neither of us are farmers, but we do know that 1 plus 1 does not always equal 2. We were very naïve in the beginning and woke up quickly to the realities of running a guesthouse and farm. In retrospect, it is lucky that we were a bit clueless, or otherwise, we wouldn’t have taken the leap to change our lives,” admits Andre.
By listening to podcasts (favourite: A Grass Fed Life), reading books (favourite: Joel Salatin) and watching you tube videos (favourite: Richard Perkins of Ridgedale Permaculture) they have learnt how regenerative agriculture fits their context of turning a homestead into a farm business. They continue to learn daily. Every minute of every day is sucked up into the endeavour of running Bramleigh Farm. Clearly, they had already started to think about different ways of running their lives.
Kait observed while building the first chicken run, that she was doing in practice what the kids in her class did in a workbook and realised that mainstream schooling was not where her passion lay – she is now a part time teacher at Misty Meadows School. Andre observed, while installing solar systems, how incredibly efficient plants are at harvesting the sunlight – every leaf on every plant engaged in turning current sunlight into carbon, with grass the most efficient converter of them all. From then on, he was hooked on Nature. Grasses sequester carbon and build soil – so actually Kait and Andre are soil farmers first and foremost.
At the start of their adventure, they put a lot of effort and resources into getting the guesthouse running well. All profits were ploughed into a veggie garden – both for their own consumption and with surplus to sell. An increase in profits meant starting with broiler chickens, then introducing layers, and very recently pigs. So, the business has grown organically (obviously), with no over extension of resources, no debt.
Kait fondly remembers their first two hens – Maggie and Isabel. “We had actually bought 10 chickens from a chap in Kamberg, but when we arrived to fetch them, they were all roosting in the trees and only these two could be caught,” laughs Kait These girls were soon joined by others,including Chicky Lick Lack (an orphaned chick who was raised in a bath tub) and now roosters Mr Buff and Austin, strut their stuff among the 80 hens.
Pasture-raised is the way Bramleigh do chickens. In their opinion this is the best way – both for Kait’s little darlings (aka the chickens) and for the environment. The birds have favourite spots to hangout and take dust baths, so if left in one space for too long a flock will destroy all the grass and wear the area down to bare soil. By moving around, the precious manure is spread, and the pastures thrive with plenty of recovery time. Everything is mobile – including the stylish egg-mobile where they lay and roost at night. “The electro-net game was a changer for us,” Kait recalls, “it keeps the birds safe from predators and enables us to move them to fresh pasture every couple of days. Having 10 paddocks permanently fenced off would be prohibitively expensive. With this mobile system, chickens are the vehicle of regenerative agriculture – they soften soil, sanitise and fertilize.”
Their varied diet of soil, insects, grass, sunshine and happiness is transferred to the eggs ensuring they are vitamin-rich and high in Omega 3. A lot of attention has been put into sourcing a supplementary feed that has none of the usual nasties like anti-biotics, steroids or hormones.
The learning curve is steep – and often quite daunting. “Every time you work with new animals you have to learn again,” smiles Andre, while he dreams about introducing a few sheep or goats to the happy flock. “Each decision is analysed, taking into consideration the social, economic, ecological and spiritual points. It is less about being an idyllic homestead than about what suits our context. That is how we came to what we are doing now – by being creative where we find ourselves, with what resources are at hand.”
The Kaueraufs believe firmly that possessing too much stuff clutters one’s ability to see the system clearly. “We check after each year – what have we not used throughout the seasons? That needs to go. With a basic set of tools and a drill, you can pretty much do anything,” enthuses Andre. “Not having everything we thought we needed when we started, forced us to think differently.” While they do regret selling a tractor that looked a little rusty when they first arrived (to free up the cash for the solar system), mostly, they have managed with what they have. Scrap yards and second-hand stores are favourite haunts and the local community have been fantastic and lent a helping hand. They work hard at building social capital – reciprocating by helping others whenever they can and participating in local events.
In a bid to improve local food security and the lot of small-scale producers, they investigated the Finnish trade model, created by Thomas Snellman called REKO and were instrumental in setting up three REKO Rings in the Midlands. REKO (meaning fair consumption) has had remarkable success in Europe and is rapidly expanding. REKO Rings are run by volunteers (cue dedicated Kait and Andre!). The main aims of KZN Midlands REKO Rings are focussed on local, ethical, organic production and strengthening the relationship between producer and consumer. Guidelines stipulate that production operations must be transparent – so people can look the farmer in the eye and ask exactly how happy the chicken was before landing in their pot. So many people buy food every day. If only ½ percent changed to a more conscious diet, business for the small, ethical, organic producer would soar.
At Bramleigh Farm, they aim is to be an example of what is possible. They have an Open Farm policy and write a regular blog that is shared widely. “Even if we fail, by being transparent about our methods, our successes and challenges, we will have helped others.”
The serendipitous combination of two creative minds, a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck means Bramleigh Farm is blazing an inspiring path across the Midlands hills – trailed by content chickens, curious pigs and possibly a goat or two.
Follow the Bramleigh Farm blog for all sorts of interesting information about their farming journey – Growing Ideas.