It’s a fact that the health and resources of our planet are in a critical state. It’s a result of harmful practices that continuously take without giving back, which is why it is now important to develop and use methods that prioritizes the Earth’s health and can provide security for humanity’s future.
One such method is regenerative agriculture, a system that seeks to heal or repair the planet’s ecosystems by applying farming techniques that can restore them.
Ruel Silvano is an advocate of regenerative practices, which is why his Terra Grande Farms in Negros Occidental is one that raises top-quality goats through regenerative goat farming.
Goal of regeneration
Despite taking up civil engineering and becoming a licensed civil engineer, Silvano was born and raised a farmer. When he was younger, his family practiced monocropping. They planted and harvested corn for several seasons until their farm’s nutrients were depleted. With the farm soil devoid of nutrients, his family had to rely on commercial fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides.
When Silvano acquired his 10 hectare land in 2018, he wanted to avoid agricultural methods that would lead to relying on synthetic products, just as his family had experienced. Silvano set his mind to develop his land to become a sustainable farm.
Silvano decided on goats, specifically Anglo-Nubians. He had experience in backyard goat raising for ten years, but raising Anglo-Nubians was an idea inspired from an event in Silvano’s childhood. When he was in Grade 5, Silvano participated in a competition that showcased agricultural products such as crops and livestock.
“One thing that was very clear to me even to this day was a display of an Anglo-Nubian buck, a very large goat to me, since we are used to seeing Philippine native goats,” Silvano said. “The price is (sic) also unbelievable. [Back then], while our native goats only sell for P800, the purebred Anglo-Nubian is priced at P8000, a factor of ten higher.”
The Anglo-Nubian left a lasting impression on Silvano, and he aimed to obtain purebred Anglo-Nubians for his farming venture. “Raising native goats and purebreds costs almost the same time, money, and effort, but the income potential is tenfold,” Silvano said.
However, Silvano didn’t simply choose purebred goats and be done with it. He also invested his time into researching the best goat-raising method that would align with his goal of having a sustainable farm. From his research, Silvano found a combination of regenerative practices to be the answer.
“Being born a farmer, I know the struggles of having a meager and unstable source of income. Typhoons, long droughts, and crop diseases are the primary source of headache to the farmers,” he said. “Not incidentally, all these problems can be solved with regenerative agriculture and agroforestry.”
In May 2019, Silvano established Terra Grande Farms, which envisions itself to become one of the top breeders of finest quality Anglo-Nubians while spearheading sustainability practices ranging from rapid rotational grazing systems, silvopasture, keyline design principles, permaculture, agroforestry, and regenerative agriculture.
A “grande” goat venture
Terra Grande Farms is a commercial-scale goat farm that raises Anglo-Nubian goats and upgraded Philippine native goats. The farm is a member of the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA), and currently has a total of 100 heads of upgraded and purebred Anglo-Nubian goats.
The goats are raised as naturally as possible using semi-intensive management. “We let them graze during sunny days, using rapid rotational grazing on a silvopastoral agroforestry system, “ Silvano said. A silvopastoral agroforestry system is a system in which trees are planted at wide spacings into grazed pastures.
“During rainy days, they are kept inside the goat house and provided with forages,” he continued. “Our pasture is not an ordinary pasture with just grass and weeds, but a developed one with grass of improved varieties like grazing-resistance, drought-tolerance and low-maintenance.”
Four hectares of the ten-hectare farm is used as the goats’ pasture area. The whole pasture area is divided into nine paddocks, with goats moved every three days and a one month rotation period.
The farm focuses on quality through aggressive selection and culling. “For our native foundation stock, we culled 50% of the does to get a better offspring on the next generation,” Silvano said. “For the purebred herd, we have well-selected ADGA registered foundation does and bucks, with proven superior genetics.”
Nowadays, a purebred registered Anglo-Nubian would cost between P30,000-P50,000 for normal lines, P50,000-P70,000 for superior genetics and P70,000-P120,000 for elite lines with imported US champion parents. “That is more than ten times the price of native goats which costs somewhere between P2000-P6000, depending on the size and season,” Silvano said.
Regenerative goat farming not only focuses on how the goats are raised and cared for, but it also helps improve soil health, carbon sequestration, climate-resilience and biodiversity, thus improving productivity and profitability.
Aside from the lower operation costs, Silvano chose this method because of his desire to be fully-independent from synthetic products and to live in harmony with nature. “We should be working with nature, and not against it,” said Silvano.
Terra Grande Farms also has a plant nursery, Terra Gardens. As they practice agroforestry and regenerative agriculture principles, it was necessary for them to venture into planting. The Terra Gardens has forage materials for pasture development and more than 50 kinds of high-value crops. It’s also the area where they house stingless bee colonies.
Terra Gardens was a way for Silvano to create developments for the farm as a whole. “As of to date, we have experimented [with] more than 15 types of grass and cover crops to be integrated on our pasture area to increase productivity and encourage biodiversity,” he said.
Terra Grande Farms and Terra Gardens is co-owned and managed by Silvano and his girlfriend, Joy Tingson. Silvano’s brothers also help manage the farm. One of his brothers, Renato Silvano, created a YouTube channel called Agri-Ventures TV where he shares the daily operations of Terra Grande Farms, including pasture and forage development, and latest goat raising technologies.
“Most of our clients are happy that we are sharing our farm experiments and results on our Youtube Channel and Facebook page,” Silvano said.
High interest for high-quality goats
With an active Facebook page and Youtube channel, the goats of Terra Grande are quick to be reserved and bought. “Our weaned goats are always sold out at five- to six-months-old,” Silvano said. “Some of our [goat] kids are even reserved at one- to two-days-old when featured on our YouTube Channel. We limit the reserved kids at 50% though, and the other 50% as replacement.”
The bought goats are delivered only within the Negros provinces while clients outside the region have to arrange a transporter themselves. However, they are planning to open nationwide shipping for their purebred and F3 Anglo-Nubians this 2023.
Due to the lower-operating cost of their semi-intensive management, their purebred and ADGA registered goats are priced significantly lower compared to most commercial goat farms despite having the same superior genetics.
They also sell improved grass cultivars, Mombasa and Mulato II splits, to fellow farmers and goat raisers who wish to improve their pastures. According to Silvano, there is high demand for these grasses due to its constant appearance on their Facebook and YouTube videos. The grasses are shipped via bus to nearby regions and via nationwide couriers for farther clients.
Silvano makes sure that their clients get more than what they came for. “We also provide our clients with our Terra Grande Management Guide, a summary of our ten years of backyard [goat raising] and three years of commercial goat farming experience, three Goat Production Handbooks, and lifetime technical assistance,” he said.
Climbing to new heights
The biggest challenge of a regenerative farm like Terra Grande is the cost needed. “Most of the cost is due to the required fencing, pasture development and large scale farm trials, “ he said. “The fencing cost is enormous, with no immediate return of investment, and no other alternative.”
They also had a problem with weeds, specifically hagonoy and lantana, in their pasture area. However, that problem was easily solved through research and farm experiments.
“Despite having almost ten years of experience in backyard goat farming, raising upgraded and purebred goats on a commercial scale presents gargantuan challenges,” Silvano said. “From remote supervision, troubleshooting, record keeping and monitoring, to standardization of protocols and perfecting management programs, [these] were slowly solved over the years through continuous research and farm trials.” After overcoming those problems, the Terra Grande Farms was smooth-sailing.
As he and his girlfriend are civil engineers, Silvano said that many of the qualities and skills that come with the profession are useful for farming. “Since farming has a very slim profit margin, each of the plans and programs need to be optimized to get the most value in the long run,” he said to present an example. “This is where Value Engineering comes to play. Being able to plan ahead is very useful to avoid unnecessary mistakes and delays, saving both time and money in the process.”
From researching to planning to execution and monitoring, Silvano uses all experience as both an engineer and a farmer to run Terra Grande Farms efficiently.
They have a lot of plans for the farm. As of now, they are focused on improving the farm’s regenerative systems. They are planning to venture into producing milk and dairy, as well as developing the farm to become an agritourism site.
Silvano finds being a farmer to be a fulfilling job, and relatively stress-free compared to engineering. “Professionals-turned-farmers would agree with me that if farming can pay the dues, nobody would want to work our day job and become full-time farmers instead,” he said.
Silvano also said, “As a civil engineer and a farmer, it has always been my dream that farmers should have better standard of living while abandoning detrimental practices such as monocropping, slash-and-burn system, extensive use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and other chemicals that are not only toxic to humans and animals, but are also slowly poisoning our planet.”
He truly advocates for more farmers to explore regenerative farm practices, and hopes to inspire a new breed of farmers with the example set by Terra Grande Farms.
Photos courtesy of Ruel Silvano (Terra Grande Farms)