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Karl Codner's innovative approach to farming

Published:Wednesday | September 22, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Karl Codner shares camera time with one of his top rams which, at one year and 10 months, is an impressive animal. - Photo by Christopher Serju
Each Saturday, the bucks on Codner's farm line up for their weekly treat of medina, which is popular among Jamaican men as an aphrodisiac. Here, a farmhand does feeding duties.
Karl Codner points to the plastic material used for the roofing of the goat pens. The material is discarded by Diageo and recycled by Codner. - Photo by Christopher Serju

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

KARL CODNER's success as a goat farmer is an inspiration to others, given the trying circumstances under which he operates.

For the Corporate Area-based aircraft engineer who operates a farm in central St Mary, it has not been an easy road - literally. The 30-acre property where his goat farm is located is a mere three quarters of a mile from the main road, but getting there will require a four-wheel-drive vehicle and ongoing prayer.

Describing himself as an absentee farmer, Codner makes the journey by truck every Saturday and as often as necessary on other occasions during the week to ensure that his employees and 400 goats get the best of care. How he accomplishes this is a story well worth telling.

With the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) quotation of about J$2 million to run about 3,000 feet of transmission wire, he has opted not to use its services. Still, the music blasting from the workers' quarters is coming from a radio plugged into a wall socket. Codner has gone for solar energy, albeit on a limited scale at this stage.

"I don't have electricity here, but I use solar energy for the workers' quarters. We use the sun, through the panels on the roof, to charge the batteries and we use an inverter to bring it up from 12 volts to 110, and then you get your lights," Codner related.

"You can play like a 13-inch television, a laptop and you get two lights, two hours of light from it, out of each charge. It has a regulator, and once the batteries are charged, it will bypass," he added

Codner's resourcefulness, however, goes well beyond addressing the lack of electricity, and his all-round skill at adaptation and innovation, though seeming to border on the eccentric, is being reflected in the outcome of his efforts. The results speak volumes.

"If you can produce animals at 10 months that are weighing 100-110 pounds, what more do you want? And if I didn't have the road to fix, I could spend more time with my animals and my production rate would have been much better," he said.

The high cost of commercial feed is no bother for this man who operated a beef cattle farm in St Ann, and whose father was heavily involved in farming. He makes his own animal feed. This means getting up some mornings at four o'clock to get ready to beat the crowd at the Diageo plant where he purchases a key ingredient - malt hops - at $1,000 a tonne.

Home-made feed

The hops, or trash, from the beer-making process is mixed with molasses and residue from imported corn which has been 'peeled' by Seprod prior to processing into cornmeal. From a processor on Deanery Road in eastern Kingston which extracts the 'milk' from imported soya beans comes another important ingredient - soya 'trash'.

Citrus pulp is acquired from Bog Walk in St Catherine, while green-banana peel dumped by Jamaica Producers Group from its chip-making operation in St Mary is free. The peel, which is dried before it is incorporated into the feed mix, is not fed to the female goats for fear that the high iron content could 'dry up' their milk.

After years of trial and error, Codner now has the right ratio for his home-made feed, which he says was endorsed by a local plant nutritionist, upon analysis. Still, he admits, in the early days when he used the packaged goat ration, he took time to note the active ingredients used - information he put to good use. However, he is still fine-tuning the combination.

For a man who is otherwise gainfully employed, traversing at least four parishes on a regular basis must seem like another full-time job.

"Would it not be more practical to just buy commercially manufactured feed?" I ask.

"No," he responds.

"With the number of animals that I do, it wouldn't be practical. By making my own feed I am ahead of the game, (as opposed to) buying commercial feed, because a truckload (of hops) will cost about $1,500-$2,000, and I carry about two tonnes of that, which can last me about two weeks," Codner disclosed.

"The corn screen from Seprod, 10 bags cost me about $5,000 and last me about five weeks. I use two bags a week. I would need to use at least a bag of feed per pen each day, and with 16 pens and at $900 a bag, no!"

Extensive acreage

Codner employs the feedlot system, wherein the goats are raised in a closed environment instead of being given access to open grazing. This is so, despite the extensive acreage at his disposal, given the control he has over the operations, especially being an absentee farmer.

"You are basically taking the land to the goats, and it is easier for me because I can go to each pen and identify exactly how many goats are in each pen, (checking if) anything missing or anything like that," explained.

Having started out with a mix of Native and Boer breeds, he is working to improve the quality of the herd. The animals are reared mainly for meat, with some service animals included. Codner said inbreeding is avoided through his use of a colour-coded ear tag system, complemented by a strict recording keeping system. Slaughtering and processing are done off-premises, and based on an impressive feed conversion ratio, he is able to sell goat meat at $300 a pound when supermarkets are selling at $350-$370.

"I do my own marketing, because I do my own slaughteringand I process and deal directly with the consumers in terms of meat," Codner disclosed. "We slaughter the animals, then freeze the meat, then use a saw and cut it up, and then we package it into 5lb packets because the average householder will buy five pounds and then split it.

"So we are very competitive. There is no middleman in my operation because the middleman is the one who makes all the money," he added.

Roofing material

A major factor in keeping production costs down is his use of a range of material, the value of which many people overlook. The roofing material used for the pens is a thick plastic which beverage company Diageo - which took over Desnoes & Geddes (D&G) - dumps but which he has no inhibitions about collecting.

"These are bags from D&G, where the corn syrup comes in, and they throw this out in the garbage, so I get these and use them to do my roofing. It comes in a container about 20ft by 8ft, and once they drain the syrup out, they throw it out. They won't last me forever, but if I get six to eight months out of it at any given time, I am happy.

"People don't sleep on bed springs anymore. They throw them out, so I collect them and use as my feed racks."

For the walls of the pens, Codner uses discarded pallets; and when he needs lumber for building feeding troughs, he goes off on another money-saving mission.

For all the adverse conditions under which he operates, Karl Codner remains upbeat about what he is doing and has no apologies about the way he goes about doing it.

"What is waste to one man is of use to me. I am employed, but you don't know what can go down, so you have to put something in place. This is my contingency plan," said Codner.