Diversity is an important element in making small farms financially viable. Having several streams of income allows small farms to manage risk within their farming operations. You don’t have to produce a thousand different things but you certainly should more than one. Financial sustainability is critical in sustainable agriculture
Today we will be speaking with Keisha Cameron of High Hog Farm about her passion for producing animal fiber. Keisha raises sheep and rabbits with the express purpose of developing a line of fiber related products. You’ll hear Keisha talk about how she got into animal fiber production, what her goals are for the farm and how she manages her pastures
And as we begin to celebrate Black History Month, I’d like all of us to remember the faceless farmers and landowners who put their land up as bail for civil rights protesters who were jailed as a result of this work. They were a critical part of the movement. MLK could not have done his work doing long stints in jail. So remember farmers and ranchers next month.
High Hog Farm
Facebook page of High Hog Farm
Shave Em to Save Them
The Livestock Conservancy effort to save endangered sheep breeds
Intro: Welcome to the Sustainable AG Rider podcast, a podcast bringing you news and views about sustainable agriculture from across the southeastern United States. Every show will feature insightful interviews and deep dives into sustainable agriculture topics with farmers, ranchers, land grant universities and local food system advocates. Now here’s your host, Brennan Washington.
Brennan Washington: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to another edition of the Sustainable AG Rider podcast. I’m your host Brennan Washington and I’m glad you can join me today. Today’s episode is going to be about raising small ruminants for fiber. So hair sheep, that type of stuff with the primary goal being not to using animals for meat production, but to use their hair and hides to develop fibers that can be turned into clothing and that type of stuff. And I wanted to do a show on production practice because the way I’ve timed this show a lot of the initial episodes would time to come out around many conferences we have here across the south. Well, across the country this time of year dealing with farmers and ranchers.
Brennan Washington: But I want to start making sure I introduce some some issues that deal with production practices.
Brennan Washington: So we’ll be talking with Keisha Cameron and of High Hog Farm and just discussing small ruminants. And just some of the work that she’s doing around raising sheep for fiber production. So the sun’s finally out here in Georgia. We we’ve been having a lot of rainy days. So it’s really nice to see the sun and crazy. I’m going to start getting back on my regular travel schedule when I’m home.
Brennan Washington: I always hope I have good weather so I can get stuff done around the farm. And it’s sort of been kind of frustrating because I haven’t been able to do that. So we are working on an area of our farm that we’re going to put into some new vegetable production, but we’re doing something a little different. So this weekend we started framing out Hoop House. I think it’s 16 by 30 is something that we’re going to be putting over that production area, but we’re gonna do something a little different with that space. What we’re going to do, we are on a mission. My wife and I, to source, as much of our meat from either animals that we grow ourselves, which in this case would be chickens or from farmers who raise stuff like cattle goats and the like.
Brennan Washington: So what we’re gonna do with this area is this spring, probably in about a month. We’re going to order some meat birds, put them on the grass in that area, raise them out.. I threw a bunch of clover and wheat seed out there.
Brennan Washington: So they’ll have a really good foundation of stuff to eat, good grasses to eat. So we’re run down that general typically take us about six to eight weeks to reach harvesting size. We’ll go ahead and process them, put them in a freezer, then follow it up with some vegetables. So probably tomatoes or any other vegetable, which doesn’t really need to touch the ground. So probably won’t do lettuce or anything like that just because we’ve put chickens in before we’ll plant those crops. So that’s the idea. We’ll do that. We’ll raise another batch in the fall and then follow it by a cover crops. So that’s gonna be our little experiment for us. So we spent and my son and I spent the weekend just getting that framed out and I got to use a new toy. Every other structure that we’ve put on a property, be it a greenhouse or high tunnel. We pretty much pounded the Post in with either a post driver, a manual post driver. And initially, when we first started with a hammer, believe it or not, I got a gasoline powered auger. And let me tell you guys, I don’t know why I waited so long.
Brennan Washington: It’s great. We had we drilled the holes for one side of the hoop house that we’re putting up in about 10 minutes, 10 minutes. I think I jacked my shoulder up. This area where we’re planting in…. one area for some reason is extremely, extremely wet. And so real muddy, not like the other posts that were in there. And it sort of got stuck and it swung me around. And I think jacked up my shoulder a little bit. So I’m really looking forward to doing this and putting those animals out. Passion now posting pictures and stuff. As we head into Black History Month. One of the things I wanted to point out on today’s show is that as we celebrate those leaders of the civil rights movement who worked to give people like myself freedoms that in many cases none of them had, that we don’t forget about the farmers and landowners who put their land up as collateral when a lot of the civil rights protesters were jailed, jailed for protesting to provide myself with.
Brennan Washington: A fair and equitable treatment to provide. Many of you out there listening to that with for fair and equitable treatment. That struggle was helped quite a bit by Southern farmers and ranchers and landowners. And we need to make sure that we as we celebrate folks during Civil Rights, Black History Month, that remember the work that these folks did at potentially great cost to themselves to make sure that we all had a brighter future. So I just want to say that. So we’re going to be talking about sheep today. And like I said, I wanted to do a show on production. And we are going to be doing a lot of issues that cover all area productions. I’m going to have somebody on to talk about ginger and turmeric production. I met someone recently who is heading up a small grain initiative in Virginia. But I think it’s a it’s it’s a national effort. So we are gonna be talking about those things. And I wanted to talk with Keisha today about the work she’s doing around raising sheep for fiber.
Brennan Washington: Hemp is the big craze now. You can’t go to a conference. Where will all anybody wants to hear about really here about is hemp, hemp, hemp. I know there’s a lot of interest, you know, on weight. I think there’s a lot of hype out there right now. And one thing that’s interesting is when you hear people talk about hemp, it’s always CBD.
Brennan Washington: Cbd, CBD, CBD, CBD.
Brennan Washington: Very little talk focuses on some of the other potential uses for hemp, such as fiber. And to me, that’s an easier route go than for farmers who are interested in transitioning to hemp, who may have used production practices that is actually harmful to growing a good crop of hemp, such as use of pesticides, the use of herbicides, a lot of stuff that you find a traditional row cropping and hemp sucks all that stuff up the soil. And so I’ve read a couple of stories where people harvest… grew acres of hemp… went to take it to a CBD processor and processors will not take it because of the heavy metals, the pesticide residues, the oversight residues that hemp has pulled up the soil. So we need to have these conversations about other uses for things on our farms and other potential markets. So remember, when we talk about sustainability, we talk about the three legged stool, social, financial and environmental and financial viability is extremely important if we’re going to keep our small farms going. So we need to be looking at practices that can increase a farmers income, even if it only adds 10 percent to the bottom line. It’s a diversification that farmers at much less risk of having problems if he’s growing or she is growing a diversified portfolio of products. And so and I think fiber needs to be in that conversation.
Brennan Washington: So we’re going to be talking about fiber production with Keisha Sheeps and goats are what are known as ruminants. I’ve always heard that term. Small ruminants, actually, sheeps are, but cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, deer, elk giraffes and camels are all ruminants, meaning that they have their stomachs have four compartments and a very highly specialised way of digesting stuff that maybe other animals can’t process, such as chickens and pigs. In this country, most of the research work being done around small ruminants, a great deal of it, if not the most, has been done by our 1890 land grant universities. So those of those who don’t know about 1890 universities or why they’re called 1890 university, there was an act in 1862 called the Moral Act, and that act basically created our land grant systems and it mainly created the larger land grants. So the University of Georgia’s 1862. Virginia Tech is an 1862 university. Clemson is a 1862 university. So these universities were created primarily to help provide education and support to farmers and ranchers in rural areas. So that’s where the whole extension system came out of. Those universities do a lot of good work. 1890, the light bulb went on and somebody said, oh, wait a minute, we forgot about the black population and making sure that those folks are included in these efforts. So in most regions of the country, the fix was just to
Brennan Washington: All right. We’re just going to admit and expand our services to cover black and brown people. However, with the South being the South, it was I know we’re not going to do that. We’re just gonna set up a separate system of universities. And so that’s how the 1890s came to be created. Your 1890s are Schools like Tuskegee, Virginia State, Fort Valley State University here in Georgia, FAMU down in Florida. These are all of our 1890, 90 universities and they have spearheaded the bulk of research on small ruminants in the United States every two years. They get together and put on a conference call, the National Goat Conference, which covers everything small ruminant related. They’ve done a lot of research on preventing parasites and parasite control in small ruminants, which goats and to a certain extent sheep can suffer from because of our climatic conditions here in the South. We have a tendency to generate or harbor parasites that are very big that can be harmful to goats and sheep. So the 1890s have done a lot of research around that and the overwhelming majority of folks who raise small ruminants do so for meat production. So fiber is not really thought of when people think of small ruminants. They’re growing it for meat and a demand for small ruminants.
Brennan Washington: Although goats and sheep are not pale in comparison in American diets, when you compare to beef, pork and chicken, there is starting to be growing demand for for these animals as a food item. You know, just the growth of immigrant populations brings with the demand for stuff like goat and sheep and that type of stuff. So it’s really been fascinating to watch how this area of production has grown. When we talk about goats and sheep, we’re talking about animals who are master escape artists. So fencing is always an issue in addition to the problems. You have parasites and stuff like that. You know, you need to have really, really good fences. You need to have a proper mix food that they like to eat. Most small sheep are grazers, so they ea grasses the same as cattle and stuff to go to browser’s. So they’ll be woody shrubs and that type of stuff. You wouldn’t keep any you wouldn’t plant any fruits, trees anywhere where you have goats because they’ll be gone the next day that they just like that type of food. And I love goat meat. Glad to see that the market for this stuff is growing. As we gonna talk about in later shows. One of the big problems with increased adoption of foods like goat, sheep and even to a certain extent, locally grown beef, pork and chicken.
Brennan Washington: One of the major well, the major obstacle in making these animals A more widely available and B, more widely available at a affordable cost has been a lack of processing infrastructure.
Brennan Washington: So let’s say you knocked. I mentioned that I’m going to be growing us chickens. We’re going to harvest for ourselves. Let’s say I want to sell those. I literally would have to take my chickens out of state to a processing plant in South Carolina or Tennessee in order to get them processed. Georgia does not have a single state certified or federally certified processing plant. So those people who do and I do know, some farmers go ahead and do raise say let’s say chickens. Go ahead and raise chickens for the market. Once again, trying to make sure that they have diversified streams of income. They have to put those chickens in in a trailer. Drive them out of state. And one or two things will happen. Either they’ll come back home and get a call when the chickens are done or they’ll stay there. So you’re talking about the cost of gas. You’re talking about the cost of a hotel room if you need to stay and then trip back.
Brennan Washington: And that significantly cuts into your bottom line. So most farmers who do this grow a large number. The number I’ve always heard on it to even think about paying for itself is twenty thousand. You have to do at least 20,000 birds a year to make that financially feasible. And that’s why when you go to a farmer’s market, you’ll see chickens six or seven dollars a pound. I’m sure that if farmers could get their processing done closer to home at affordable rates, those prices will certainly come down. That hasn’t been the case. Unlike chickens, which you find in a grocery stores which are part of a fully enclosed supply chain that is owned by a company like Perdue, they own everything from the chick all the way up to when that can reaches you, your grocery shelves. And so that’s why I think that if should we need to get some more processing infrastructure into place to help these farmers who obviously had a market. I know a farmer in West Georgia who basically had to stop selling gold because demand was so great, he wasn’t keeping enough animals in order to build his herd. That’s how great the demand was. And so there’s definitely a market down here. I met with the Mississippi Meat Goat Producers Co-operative about two years ago, and that was a major complaint.
They could sell all the product, they could grow, but they’ve got no where to take it to be processed. One of things I hope some of these producers look at is looking at the areas is fiber. And it’s nice to see a lot of stuff coming together. So there’s a young lady up in Tennessee who has been researching and bringing back the production of Indigo, which is a plant that produces dye. So most blue jeans today have synthetic dyes or dyed with a synthetic that works with the synthetic process. But a long time ago, that used to be all natural dyes. So she’s bring it when and she’s doing a couple inches. She’s doing some variety trials, see what works best in her region. But the other thing she’s doing, she’s working with former tobacco farmers. What she did was develop a model, an economic model, where those farmers sign on to grow the indigo, knowing that they’ll get X amount of dollars per acre when they start out. So unlike many commodity farmers, of which tobacco used to be, you’re not as subject to the whims of the market as you are with things like cotton, tobacco and that type of stuff. But it’s interesting because one of the things we’ll hear of Keisha talk about is experimenting with sheep that have different color wools and then how she plans to at some point look at some of these natural dyes to do value added products, be it clothing, paper, that type of stuff to eat, to use natural dyes and develop a line of value added products to sell off her farm. Once again, diversifying that stream of income. So that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. Think you. Find the show very interesting. I’ll have links to information such as the indigo Project as well as to information that Keisha has provided me in the show notes. And I hope you enjoy this episode. So now stay tuned for some announcements of upcoming events.
Brennan Washington: These are upcoming events for January and February 2020. This is the time of farmer conferences. It’s early winter and these will go on to probably about early spring when farmers have time to attend this thing. And I’ll say to farmers and ranchers out there, other than financial reasons or family reasons, there’s no reason why you should not be attending these conferences. If you do not have slack in your schedule to attend these conferences and to gain knowledge and education about your given profession, then you’re doing something wrong. I remember talking to a person online and was talking about some of the conferences that were coming up and this person said, I don’t have time to go to that, I’m too busy on the farm. And my response to this person was if you don’t have time to go educate yourself and to gain knowledge, that will make you a better farmer or a better rancher. Then you’re doing something wrong. You are doing something wrong. Now, I understand the issue about cost. I understand not everybody has $300 or $400 to drop down on a conference registration. And on top of that, pay travel costs, including mileage and hotel. I understand now I understand it, but a lot of these conferences have scholarships for farmers and ranchers. And you need to take it upon yourself to find out what these are. What knowledge you can gain from it and if it’s going to be beneficial to you. You need to attend. Now, having said that, here are some upcoming conferences.
Brennan Washington: The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group or as most of us know it. Southern saw. Will be having an annual conference January 22nd to 25th in Little Rock at the Little Rock Convention Center. The theme of the conference is agricultural resistance in a changing climate. This is a really good conference show. This is our regional for those of you in the Southeast. This is our regional sustainable ag conference. The Winston County Self-Help Cooperative is having the final conference of a series of conferences they have throughout the state of Mississippi. On February 1st at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Frank Taylor does a lot of really good work around saving rural communities with a particular emphasis on black farmers and the efforts and the challenges that black farmers go, but really focus on rural America in general. So if we can make this, please do. Frank does a series of these conferences starting in the last week to January and taking on all out to the end of February. So you can get more information at the Winston County Self-Help Cooperative. Just Google that on Facebook for Southern SAWG, just Google Southern SOC, that’s SSAWG. and you get information about that conference. Then the Georgia Organics Conference, which is our state sustainable AG, and organic organization in Georgia, is having their annual conference Feb. 7th through the 8th at the classic center in Athens, Georgia. This is an excellent conference for those of you in Georgia and surrounding areas. So some of you who in lower South Carolina, close to Georgia, bordered this would be good conference for you to come to. They may have some scholarships available, but go ahead and attend it. This year, Southern SARE has sponsored a black farmer prosperity track, which is all about how black farmers can become prosperous. You know, once again, going back to the three legged stool financial, the financial leg is very, very important and all farmers need to be financially viable.
Brennan Washington: But it’s especially important for black farmers who are as a large part of the farming community as whole. Our population is diminishing. So we need to make sure that those folks who those both the black people who decide to make this vocation and a profession and a career that they are sustainable and that they can make a living wage and that they can support their families in that type of stuff. And that’s what the track at Georgia Organics is going to be about. So those are your upcoming events. If you have upcoming events, you hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org and try and give me at least a months notice so I can make sure that I can promote your event or your conference or your field day with adequate notice so people have plenty of time to be able to attend these things. Peace out.
Brennan Washington: So welcome back to Sustainable AG Rider Podcast. I’m here with Keisha Cameron of High Hog Farm. How are you Keisha?
Keisha Cameron: I’m good. I’m good. Thanks for having me. This. Yes. You’ve been traveling a lot. I have. I just got back from an agroecology tour with Cuba. Well, now. So that that was an amazing experience, That was a quick trip, wasn’t it? How long were you down there?
Brennan Washington: I was only gone for about a week. Was there for about a week and got to see a number of different small farms and cooperatives. There it was truly inspiring.
Brennan Washington: Good, good, good, good. Warren go with you. You you went solo?
Keisha Cameron: No. My. Somebody heas to watch the farms. I hear you. I hear you.
Brennan Washington: Want to have you on show to talk about. I know you have a passion for fiber. And I think you’re the only African-American farmer that I know that grows that raises animals specifically for fiber. I’m sure there’s more out there. But I like to talk about what how you got your interest in fiber, what you’re doing now, and then we can have a conversation about it. I also want to talk about this whole hemp craze that’s hitting the country. But let’s talk about your farm. High hog farm. When you start it?. What do you grow?
Keisha Cameron: Well, we have officially been farmers, you know, the on the books, as it were, for about five or six years where we’re going into year six this April. But we’ve been on this this piece of property on the land for almost 10 years now. We started off with a gift of seven baby chicks from my horseback riding instructor and five of those turned out to be roosters. And that was very, very early on in the process before we were really diving into learning land management and just how to be sustainable stewards of agricultural steward. So fast forward now. We have sheep. I’ve discovered a passion for sheep that does not necessarily I don’t know that I can explain why. I just seem to get them. That’s my thing. We have had small ruminants for about six of those six years anyway with goats and I have my horse and we also raise rabbits and chickens. So yeah, yu still have your goats? I do. We have four goats. So just. Yeah. Why are you looking for some goats?.
Brennan Washington: No, not enough room. And I hear their master escape artists.
Keisha Cameron: They are a little bit about we do things a little differently because we didn’t intend on becoming production farmers. When we first started it was kind of the homestead journey. Right. And the goats are my sons. So I forsee within the next three or four years when he’s gone and, you know, in college or are out of the house, we probably will scale back in and not eliminate the goats. For now, they’re here and they provide enough comedy for for all of us.
Brennan Washington: Yes. Yes. Good stress relief. So tell me about your work with your sheep. Now, I’ve seen you on Facebook. You’re doing starting to spin some of your wool now.
Keisha Cameron: I am. I am. This was our first year. We got a starter flock two years ago. So we bought all these lambs that year and last spring had our first shearing. So I had our fleeces. And there is a program through the Livestock Conservancy which works to preserve heritage breeds and endangered breeds, specifically domestic breeds to the United States. And we raise Gulf Coast natives, which are on that conservancy list. So we got four of those fleeces that we we sheared and then sold raw wool. I hadn’t begun really spinning and well enough for me to be comfortable with selling at that point. So we sold those sold the wool as raw wool through the Save Them to Shave Them program, which the Livestock Conservancy puts together. And that was huge because it was one of those things where for, you know, we’re a family farm and Warren my husband has been very you talk to him, he’s been very adamant about things being able to pay for themselves. So that was the one of the first times on the first right out of the chute that we were able to make a profit because we were able to sell to hand spinners. So it got his interest very early on, which was huge for me.
Brennan Washington: So so was it a good market for like wool?
Keisha Cameron: And there is there is actually. So it falls under, if I’m not mistaken, kind of the craft market. So hand spinners is I don’t know the exact number. I know it’s a. I think it’s a couple of billion dollars. Then people will spend on raw wool and other forms of fiber or handmade textiles. So it’s not the same as you would think in the commercial big ag, big industry, textile industry. But there’s definitely a niche there and there’s money to be made there. If you can figure out how to right size it and it’s a it’s a bit of a balancing act. So we’re learning. We’re learning as we go.
Brennan Washington: Ok. What what your goals eventually with your your flock what’s the end result besides, how many sheep can I support?
Keisha Cameron: I’d like to eventually be able to sell value added products. So from anything from the raw wool is great, but I would like to be able to process that wool into robing more top that could be sold as well as finished yarn. I don’t know whether or not I want to move into actual actual apparel or finished goods. I like the idea of doing that and we have actually talked about augmenting some of that with art because you know, before this we had the herbs and vegetables expanding and shifting to some some of the dye plants so that we can have some naturally dyed walls in yarns to sell to people as well.
Brennan Washington: What are some of the natural dyes? And I know about Indigo, but what else?
Keisha Cameron: Yeah, that’s one of the plants. So there’s a Japanese indigo as well as a Caribbean indigo. And I’m sourcing seed for that. There is a farm that I believe that’s in Tennessee that has done some work and put some information out about how to grow, that does very well. Yeah. Here in this climate is also in the Legume family. So it’s a nitrogen fixing plant which works great for soil health. But we’re also looking at plants like matter root. There’s a whole slew of natural flowers and other natural plants that are in our environment and everybody locally has something that grows that can be used as a dye stuff. So I’ve just started doing that. I was able to do a couple workshops and then experimented a bit on my own. This is exciting.
Brennan Washington: I actually know that Southern SARE actually funded the Indigo project. Really? Tennessee. So we had a summer meeting there maybe two years ago and we got to visit it.
Keisha Cameron: So you’re the expert that’s gonna come help this spring. Come along.
Brennan Washington: I can point you to the excellent ground, but it was really unique and she really seemed to be carving out some interesting niches. I think a lot of high end jean companies were contacting her.
Keisha Cameron: There’s a demand for local textile products. I’m noticing more fiber, fiber, wool, yarn shops like that popping up locally. People are looking just like the move to eat local. There’s move for local fiber sources and supply. And unfortunately, there’s not a cohesive network. There’s a few mills nearby and there’s people who’ve been processed. But there are certain gaps that need to be filled within that within the industry. So really collaborating and working with people are just getting to know your farmer who has that and working with them on how you can if that’s if you are a fiber artist trying to find that local source is definitely opportunities out there. Right.
Brennan Washington: What? When you were talking about your sheep, what type of carrying capacity to sheep has as far as being on the land, for example, how many per acre or.
Keisha Cameron: Well, OK, so you’re stocking rate really is affected by the health of your pasture and we have marginal pasture pastures right now. So my stocking rate is about seven per acre. I’ve heard estimates anywhere from nine to eleven. And that’s if you’re if you are treating your pasture as your sole crop or your sole means of feed annually We supplement with hay. Right now we have four sheep. We have a weather who carries a color genetics. So he’s like a black sheep. He’s got kind of a brown rusty one. And then the other two are. Or the other. I’m sorry. The other three are my ewes who are bred right now. So we expect to have, well, at least three more lambs come January. So we’ll be up to about six. And one of the things that’s really important that I emphasize and because it’s been emphasized to me is with my mentor, Jan Sothers. She is the farmer in Daniel’s Kolber actor, actually, Georgia, who raises these and is a breeder, is being very selective about your breeding stock because it’s an endangered or threatened animal you want to keep the best quality.
Brennan Washington: So we will. They are considered a dual purpose sheep. Most of the African-American fibers, farmers that I know that do have sheep usually use them for meat. And then the wool is kind of an added benefit that people might go to. If they know a market or somebody asks them specifically, they might sell it. I’m the other way around, but I keep in the back of my mind that once we have. These animals hit the land that my carrying capacity is finite. What I can do to support them so that I’m not degrading the land further, but they’re actually adding to the sustainability of the property and that I’m trying to improve the breed. We will then pass them on either to somebody else, especially because I don’t keep a ram only breeding. I don’t keep a ram or a buck only breeding that I do on farm any only reading that I do with my rabbits. So I dug my goats and my sheep out every end of every summer.
Brennan Washington: What’s the difference between a ram and a buck containment?
Keisha Cameron: No. The ram is the male intact male sheep and the buck is intact male goat. So when is breeding season comes around that and you hear stories, but they can become more difficult to handle. And since I’m such a new farmer or new hand shepherd, I’m taking things step by step and really developing. So the first year was just learning basic sheep care and maintenance animal husbandry. The next year was. Then the shearing. Then from there, now we’re entering into breeding and lambing. And once I can get a handle and know what to look for when I’m with those animals, then I might consider adding a ram to keeping a ram. But you have to have them separate, or if you run them together, you might be having lambs throughout this season without breaking them.
Brennan Washington: So now you said these are called Gulf Coast sheep.
Keisha Cameron: Yes, there are. Gulf Coast are both Gulf Coast natives. OK. The names that they go by.
Brennan Washington: Ok, so that being that the Gulf Coast natives, are they like sheep, like goats, and they have a tendency of propensity to get really bothered by parasites?
Keisha Cameron: That’s a great question, because this particular breed is what people would term a land race breed. It is not one of the refined breeds like Merino first, for example, but it was has a lot of genetic diversity. They had actually at one point gone feral throughout their history or semi feral. Their numbers dwindled and those that survived developed a certain certain characteristics and resiliency so that they’re not parasite proof, but they’re highly parasite resistant. So that is something that bodes very well for sheep in the Southeast. You have it. I think sheep can handle a moist climate and they can handle a hot climate. But the Southeast has both. And that means parasites and parasite buildup can become really difficult. But they do well at handling that load. And so far, we check we for famacha check their eyes, eyelids. Every now and then we’ll do a stool sample. We use natural herbs. We supplement with natural herbs and minerals while you sea kelp or wormwood periodically with their feed and make sure they have access to a diverse range of browse in addition to the hay and feed that we give them. But all of those things together help to keep. They can help regulate and keep their parasite load in check. So far it’s not foolproof, but our management practices so far has been really good. So we haven’t had to use chemical wormers one them. That is an option because their health and welfare comes first. So if we ever get to that point, we would do that. But so far we have been really fortunate not to have had a heavy load.
Brennan Washington: Not as such. You have mentioned warmer. So a lot of folks to specifically around meat are sometimes reluctant to use.. eat meat that has been consistently wormed with commercial warmers. Is that an issue for fiber, though, because you’re not really eating it?
Keisha Cameron: Are there any other. No, I have not that I’ve heard of. I’ve never come across that. I know there are a lot of people who have sensitivities. Two will rule may irritate their skin or and that’s usually because it’s the wrong type of wool in that particular application. It may not be something that the lanolin or something that is an irritant. But I’ve never heard anything as far as the parasite or any type of chemical or antibiotic use that’s affected anybody transferred to anybody because they’re not. It’s not something you ingest. OK. OK.
Brennan Washington: You looking at any other types of animals for fiber when you’re gonna start doing alpacas. I am. Of course I am.
Keisha Cameron: So I have another shepherd that I really, really like Beth Warner. She actually is the I believe director. I hope I got her title right. Of the Georgia Wool and Sheep Association. And she raises Tunis Sheep, which are also a dual purpose breed. Also on the Livestock Conservancy list as a heritage breed. I’ve been looking at them. They don’t know that I like their wool quality as much as the Gulf Coast, but I did have the opportunity to sample some of the wool from her flock. And it is nice. It definitely has a specific qualities. The applications for it would be really nice. And then the third breed that I’m looking at is also another I lean towards heritage breeds. Is the Jacob they’re a bit more primitive sheep? And I have been told by other shepherds that have been around them that they take a little bit more. They’re not a beginner. Sheep got a little bit more seasoned or skilled hand. So that is on my horizon because they have a really, really nice fleece, like a really nice wool. So wool quality. And then lastly, outside of sheep, this is how we kind of started. We had angora rabbits. So I have been spinning angora rabbit fluff. We call it wool, but it’s not technically the same as a wool weave. I’ve been spinning that. So it would be nice to have as far as protein based fibers from the sheep and the rabbit. Those are the ones that I’m thinking about for use for blending. And then there’s a whole range of plant based fibers that I’m. Considering integrating into a silvopasture system like the indigo, but also spinning cotton, black’s nettles. So we’re doing a little research right now in the off season about what we want to plant and what we’re want to experiment with in the next year or two.
Brennan Washington: Are you going trying to do it organically.
I would like to when I came across because I called Department of AG, the State Department of AG and asked some questions and I was pointed to a resource about the cut in the permit. You need a permit or a license to grow cotton and ornamental cotton in a home gardening. Oh, really? That’s how it’s classified or broken down. Separate from like you have to be a certain distance from commercial growers, etc etc. because of the boll weevil in the epidemic that almost wiped out a vast majority of the cotton industry. So now if they want if I’m reading their information correctly, they want a certain use of pesticides, insecticides, rather pesticides and herbicides that are used within that growing space. And there’s parameters on that. I have a call back into the gentleman to talk with him because I want to ask him questions specifically about that before we commit. We had to spot treat last year for the first time in 8 years. We had to spot treat for with the help of a Philip Brown out of NRCS out of up near Athens as a pasture grassland specialist. And he’s. He and my NRCS local and our guy came out and he’s helped me over the past year because we’re trying to improve our pastures. And we had three different particular noxious weeds that were not responsive. So we did have to spot treat about an acre and a half where I literally walked in and just tried to eliminate those particular ones. And that was heartbreaking. I had hoped that by some miracle I had some special touch that I could eliminate these words on my own.
Keisha Cameron: And that wasn’t the guys that work like that.
Keisha Cameron: She gave me a different perspective, though. There’s so much criticism of our farmers that use these harmful chemicals. And I’ve never liked it. But I understand, you know, I’m doing this with my family. I don’t have whole sections of our population that are dependent upon being provided food.
Keisha Cameron: And it made me step down off my high horse just a little bit and appreciate the challenges that they face. I still really very firm and selective about what we use. And then we’ve had to we’ve fortunately we only have before goats and the for sheep. So we’ve been able to keep them off that area and none of them are in milk or in production. So there’s no consumption, but still there is an impact. But if I want to be able to sustain their health, then that was a choice. That was the trade off. And if I hadn’t been stubborn as I was, I knew that this was going to be a thing about a year and a half ago. And then last year it was spiny amaranth. And I was gonna ask horse nettle. And the horse nettle has the spikes up top and bottom and that it spreads through the root and the flower.
Keisha Cameron: So that thing was like, oh, if you’re not going to check me, we’re just go nuts. That’s when it that’s a big purple head, right? Because that is it’s got to the white and purple flower that come up.
Keisha Cameron: Not not it’s not a thistle, but it has this. I don’t how to describe it has a spike spikes on the stem, the top of the leaf in the bottom of the leaf. And most of the animals, even with the spiny amaranth, which you’d call pigweed, has that kind of pink stem. Yeah, well,they’ll nibble the leaves, but it’s like pruning the plan and the plant just sends out another shoot. So those two I eventually just had to I had to treat but I got off track. You’d ask me something and I went down this road about herbicides. But the we don’t know if I’m going to need I don’t know for sure if I’m gonna have to use something, but I would prefer not to.
Brennan Washington: Ok, so hopefully they have approved some natural treatments.
Keisha Cameron: There are a few different organically approved. Definitely herbicides, i–just. We we’ve actually we’re trying this thing with the rabbits, with American chinchilla rabbits and tractoring them on pasture because they eat of a broader variety. I’ve noticed they’ve eat a wider diversity of forage and browse than my goats, do my goats or my goats are spoiled so they they’re picky. Where when I put move the rabbit. In concentrated areas across the pasture, they actually are eating and I’m able to come back behind and seed much like people use broiler chickens. Gotcha. But the benefit is that rabbit manure is what I refer to as a green manure. It doesn’t. It’s not hot. And go directly on and it’s higher in nitrogen, which is helping. So I’ll let you know whether or not that. Ends up working for us. If we can see results faster that way.
Brennan Washington: Well, I was at a meeting a couple weeks ago. in Virginia and the director of the American Forestry Association was there. We were having lunch and we were just mentioning some of the issues we had with trying to get people to adopt silvopasture pasture practices on their land. For those of our listeners who don’t know what that is, that’s basically running animals in between you’re planting of trees or or that type of stuff. The most common one people know about is running cattle through stands of pine trees. But anyway, we you know, I was telling her that eventually on my place I’d want to do some alley cropping and maybe run some chickens in between my fruit trees and I’d get them all done. But you sounded like you had some interesting ideas about what you envision a silvopasture operation looking like in your place.
Keisha Cameron: I have had this idea since I actually since the very first year when we became farmers.
Keisha Cameron: So it’s been a minute because I ran into some farmers who were down in south Georgia who do exactly that with mine. And I don’t know if they use cattle or hogs, but they it’s, you know, the perennial rotation and it’s established them. So what I wanted to do was kind of a modified food forest. So the fruit trees and the different layers. So I have my my little bit of study with permaculture and agroecology, but using the canopy layer with your fruit and nut trees and then working down so you have your shrub layer in your lower layer. But instead of just having them be edibles working in things like Indigo or matter root or trying to think of other other fiber based plants so the cotton then have them fill those voids within those beds and do them on contour or with this within swales in raised beds and then rotating and moving your animals through those aisles.
Keisha Cameron: So it’s we started trying to do these with eight by eight plots, the tree in the centre and then we fenced it and we fence t-posts and used goat wire because you know, that’s built is in the name. So the goats very quickly managed to eat and tear the bark off at least six of the 20 trees that we had planted down there. We lost for sure. We’ve lost three of them. So now we’re playing around with whether or not we can hotwire around them. So this how this setup will work and what we can. How much pressure we can allow to be within that space because we had have deer pressure in the past. But the goats the goats did the did the worst bit of damage. So we’re reworking how we’re going to do that for the spring and what we’re going to plant in there. And right now, we’re I think we’re going to just focus on rabbits and chickens. There’s even the damage would if they were to be able to encroach upon that planting area, those planting zones, they wouldn’t it wouldn’t be catastrophic loss. You know, they just set us at least two, two and a half years back.
Brennan Washington: And that’s now. Wow. So basically, once you run your chickens and your rabbits through the area, then you’re going back with pasture seed is that the at the idea.
Keisha Cameron: Yes. So rotating them in zones and it’s generally integrated rotational grazing that still applies, but throughout the space and then there’s different seasons that I’m I’m really leaning towards. So if we can get a proper barrier established, we would actually lead with the largest the largest animal first, which would be the small ruminants, the goats and the sheep. And then we would come behind with the rabbits and then the chickens would clean up and then that area would be sectioned off. And then we come behind with a mixture of pasture mix and then we’re doing an annual and perennial mix. We’re trying to have a variety of good diversity of products so that seasonally I right now we seed pasture three times a year and that’s fairly intense. It would be nice if. We didn’t have to do it quite as frequently. What grasses are you using, right now we’re using Red River crab grass and Sereza lespedsa as the two main types of forage. The Sereza lespedsa is also have noted for its Parasite helps, but Parasite resistance. So that’s really, really good. And then I integrate. I add things like right now we just added rye Perennial rye. It just doesn’t survive. So it’s an annual rye red clover, Dutch white clover. I’m thinking I’m looking right at it from top m.a in the summer. There’s a few others. I’m sure I’m vetch rape. There’s a few others that we mix in. And I’ve even found that for the goats in the sheep that every now and then if I can get some mustards or or like a turnip or something like that to come up in there, it helps break up that compaction a little bit. The root crops do and they like the tops.
Brennan Washington: So you don’t have bermuda grass at your place.
Keisha Cameron: I do have a little bit of Bermuda in immediately around the house and the back and we have been. Fortunate enough so far that our driveway and our breaks stand up and then I planted herbs around, so I have chives and Yaro that are planted right around the border between where they met meat and because they also spread and lemon balm in mint. They have been so far. See, you say this in the next season.
Keisha Cameron: I mean, but yeah. So I don’t want to do it here.
Brennan Washington: Yeah. Well I wish I could give you this bermuda I have over here.
No, thank you. No, thank you. And actually the crab grass is more nutritious for Bermuda. I think the reason Bermuda is so popular in horse pastures is because it’s it holds up under pressure. It’s hard to get rid of. So even the toughest horse can’t ever really get rid of it.
Brennan Washington: So, yeah, we got a funded for Pollinator doing some pollinator gardens here through NRCS. Yes. And so a lot of it were going to put at the front. And I was talking with Ryan, who’s our NRCS guy, about how we’re going to get rid of this Bermuda grass, because when it’s time to seed the stuff with the flowers won’t be able to out-compete with the bermuda So no one is suggesting we give me was just to get some roundup heavy duty to burn it, all of which I don’t know if I want to do that. Understood.
Yeah. Have you tried? So we just put down a silage tarp in the goat pasture, the area where we have moved the animals up to the pasture and we put down a silage tarp which is about 50 by 100. Okay. Or trying to smother the weeds because I didn’t want to spot trees in that area. Yeah. Know that might be an option. I don’t know.
Brennan Washington: How long have you picked it up yet.
Brennan Washington: I have not. My intention is not to do it until it’s time to seed in the spring.
Brennan Washington: Okay. We didn’t use an actual silage tarp, but we’ve got some really, really heavy duty tarps. You’re black and we had a problematic area down in the back that where we grew long and we just didn’t do well with onions because of the BUETER and the nuts. It was horrible too. So we’ve had it covered since about August. So hopefully, you know, we’re not gonna take it also to sprout and killed it. Yeah, it is. But we were able to get a lot of it down before it got really hot in the summer. You know, we’re on the shutdown. Given up that production area is kind of tough sometimes.
Keisha Cameron: So, yes. Yes, it is. So how are you going to plant back in? I’m just curious what you’re going to fill the space. What to out-compete?
Brennan Washington: What’s mine? We may do tomatoes in that area next year. Vegetables, the veggies we really had a problem with. We’re like our onions and stuff. They just they just couldn’t spread. So we’re either going to just plant them into landscape cloths the next year or we’re going to just do a total of a vegetable so… Well, I’ll be interested to see how it works out. So you’ve been doing any speaking lately?
Keisha Cameron: No, no, it’s been nice. I haven’t had to no homework on my on my part. So it’s been nice to be off for a little while.
Brennan Washington: You go on any conferences this year? Made a big conference.
Keisha Cameron: Honestly, I thought about it and so on. And I’ve got about jar-jar Organics. But let the past two years has been every month or at least every other month I’ve been traveling. So I’ve been wanting to just nest a little bit at home and get my hands back in the dirt consistently. So I don’t think I’m going anywhere unless it’s just too good to be true. Cuba was too good to be true. You don’t pass that up.
Brennan Washington: Laughs Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s a once in a lifetime. Yeah. Yeah. Cuba reminds me a lot of what I saw in Puerto Rico, just the small farms and I’m looking forward to my next trip.
Brennan Washington: And what else you been doing? The boys are growing up.
Keisha Cameron: My boys are huge. I referred to my oldest as a teenager and he paused and reminded me that he’s twenty two and I had to I just had to shake my head. I’m not ready for them to be. I’m not ready for them to be grown. And I’m not quite ready for them to be gone because they they’re my help. You’re on the right. Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do when when I don’t have extra hands.
Brennan Washington: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Brennan Washington: So do you know any of the farmers, specifically black farmers who were doing fibre?
Keisha Cameron: A handful I actually just put an inquiry out on a national black AG group and asked this specifically this question just last week, and I’ve only gotten maybe 10 or 15 responses. Most of the farmers that I know that I am familiar with raise the sheep for or hair, sheep for meat. I don’t know any that do dairy, but there is a lady by the name of Deborah Green who raises Shetlands up in Kentucky. And I came across her about two or three years ago, mutual through a mutual friend. And she has been very encouraging. She helped me as I was trying to decide which breed we wanted to pursue initially. And then she responded to the question that I posed or the comment that I made within that post that I put up there last week about collaborating ideas around potential markets. And what would it look like to have a local fiber shed as our fiber network in this country force, as far as I’m aware, for small farmers. I don’t know how big AG is. You know that there is a huge textile industry, you know, half employs half a million people. And I think I read something that said that each employee for every job. Within the textile industry, it supports three other jobs, the creation of three other jobs within the snake in the country. So there’s clearly cotton hemp, as you mentioned. Those are big industries.
Keisha Cameron: But as far as the small farmer and particularly black farmers that occupy that space, I’m not familiar with that many. I do. I met a woman. Of course, Tanya Toia. Her name is going to miss me. I’m going to forget the name for a moment. But she has a mill in Ohio, is a black owned mill. She and her husband operate. And I think she can do something like a one or two tons of wool within her space to process at a time. Debra, the sheep farmer. And then there’s a few others that are out there. But as far as the network’s concerned, I’m not very familiar. I would like to learn from some others because I just have to believe that there was a time when this was part of our heritage and our history.
Keisha Cameron: Good, bad or ugly, but which ever way you look at it. This was still knowledge that was held, cultural knowledge and cultural assets that were were ours. Just like we understand that there was trauma around cotton and cotton production. It was because we were all so skilled and knowledged in that labor and that labor was exploited. But I had done some reading around, some of trying to find, you know, who are those names? Were those historical fact your figures? Were those African-Americans who have done this work and carried this and this knowledge around sheep and wool be south or the north or what have you? And the only thing I kept coming back to were the slave narratives, which I found in the Library of Congress. And there were so there were many references about having to shear the sheep or finding the leftovers of what was sheared and being able to make your own clothes and what was provided the provisions that were allotted. So it wasn’t uncommon or it was knowledge that we had. But I haven’t really done enough study to find those elders that still have that that can share some of those narratives and educate me around that. I know people who quilts definitely know some. Julius Tillery, who is up in North Carolina..Black Cotton
Keisha Cameron: But to find people who specifically focused on well, I have not so far outside of the voices and the stories of those who were enslaved. Well, that’s a little heartbreaking because, you know, you talk to people individually and they say, oh, my grandma knit or my my aunt taught me to crochet or I used you know, I know my my cousin used to spin. But you don’t hear that in connection to where those textiles came from. Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. I would love this. If there’s anybody that listens is tunes in your podcast and has some of that knowledge to share. I would love to hear more stories are important to me.
Brennan Washington: That’s one of the reasons why I’m doing this, to make sure we connect folks. And you know, I’m really interested and a lot of work at Ira Wallace with southern seed. So then we’ll just see company because like you said, even as these crops became commercialized and let’s say our folks didn’t grow them anymore, they just passed down. The other thing we’re losing, though, is the history. So I was very honest when she did. I don’t know if you go see one of her presentations. She comes right out and says, you know, I know these seats were certain seeds that she talks about in these talks. If you you know, they will developed and kept by African-Americans. But we don’t have pictures. We don’t know. At some point, it got passed up to a white farmer. But it was actually a black farmer who may have developed the seed. But then we lost that history, lost at that train. We have to start to try and capture that.
Keisha Cameron: So, yeah, I would. I also love about Mama Myra is she also was a crafter when she first started. She did textile crafts and other other crafts as well as seed saving in the seed saving. She told me it became so prevalent. That’s where her attention, her focus was. But it was really nice because she understood. She kind of got me in the sense that, you know, she understood where this desire to reconnect with that black agrarian arts.
Brennan Washington: Yes. Yes. Have you. But have you been on her farm? I haven’t. Oh, yeah. So Rhea loved to go. If you ever have a chance to go up there and that’s a really unique I’ma try and go during the summer when I went to. It was off season. I want to talk to her about why. So I was in Virginia. But I really love to go up there in the summer when she really has everything blooming and stuff like that, to really see it in the seed operation is amazing.
Keisha Cameron: So I think she has six different cotton varieties. Oh, really? Four of them of different colors. She has a green, a brown, a white and a red listed. So I would consider those because cotton isn’t just isn’t all just white.
Brennan Washington: Yeah. OK. Well, Keisha, I want to thank you for taking the time.
Keisha Cameron: Thank you for having me.
Brennan Washington: And I’ll let you know, the first show is going to be broadcast January 8th. But I’m just trying to stack up. So I have enough episodes to make sure that people have enough content to keep them coming. And I’ll come over and visit people in a podcast. I’ll know that. But we’re neighbors.
Brennan Washington: You haven’t been over your place in a while, actually.
Keisha Cameron: So, yeah. Bring your bring your boots. OK. OK. And I appreciate you doing this. It’s great seeing it come to fruition. We thank you for your voice.
We are going to have a high tunnel reason, 40 over here pretty soon, so.
Brennan Washington: Ok. Well, let me know. We’ll do some barbecue and just get her up. All right. And hug one Gwen for me.
I sure will. She’s driving now, so. Yeah. Oh, look out. Let’s get back to drive in. So. All right, Keisha, thanks again.
I’d like to have you on again to talk about some of your progress as you get further into stocks.
All right. Appreciate it.
Thank you. Tell Warren I said hi.
Thank you for listening to the Sustainable AG rider. podcast. Please visit our Web site at Sustainable AG rider. dot com where you can subscribe to the show on i-Tunes Stitcher, Google Play and Spotify. If you found value in this show, we’d appreciate a rating on i-Tunes. Please tell your friends and colleagues about the show and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Once again, thank you for listening to the Sustainable AG rider. podcast. Sustainable AG News and Views.
This has been a labor of love because I believe the information you hear on this show. If you have found some value in this podcast, please consider making a small donation to help us cover some of the productions costs
Join our mailing list and get notified when we record new episodes.
© All rights reserved. The Sustainable AG Rider Podcast