Modern Survivalism 101 – An Introduction

Synaptoman, the blog, has concerned itself with many topics over the years and has, surprisingly, thanks to you, the loyal reader, reached the #7 spot in the News and Politics section of the local South African blog charts. Topics have ranged from Aquaponics to Sustainable Living, Permaculture, Humour and even some local politics. I have carefully charted a course for this blog based on what my readers want to read about and have even had the occasional reader survey, not that I have a particularly democratic personality.

What is clear is that most of my readers come here for the Aquaponics. While I could write indefinitely on this subject, I have put most of what I have learned into my book, Aquaponics – the Synaptoman Way, which you can buy from this website. This little publication sells a considerable number of copies and I am sure ranks as one of the most downloaded eBooks on the subject of Aquaponics worldwide.

What you must bear in mind however, is that Aquaponics is just one small component of the ‘bigger picture” and it is this, that will be the main focus of my blog for the foreseeable future.

Modern Survivalism, as practised by Jack Spirko and the other good ol’ boys at The Survival Podcast represents a 21st Century approach to mankind’s oldest problem that is, how to survive as a family or community when things are going well or even when they go pear-shaped. It is a concept far removed from the wack-job bunkered down in a cellar surrounded by guns and “surviving” on tinned food while the world around him goes to hell in a handbag.

No, Modern Survivalism is a holistic approach to the old Boy Scout motto of “be prepared” and the important thing here is that in your preparations (preps) you should not do anything or spend any money on items that you would not need anyway. In a real “Shit Hit the Fan” (SHTF) situation, your preps should place you and your family in a far safer place than all those around you without unnecessarily attracting any attention to you.

I will spend the next couple of posts dealing with the basic concepts of Modern Survivalism and then outline how I have applied them in my life here at the southern tip of Africa.

Be Prepared



Chickens Revisited – The Holistic Gardener

A phrase I have read on numerous forums regarding chickens goes as follows, “If I had known how easy and fun it was to keep chickens, I would have done it years ago.”

This is spot on. Chickens, especially a small flock of hens only, are clean, quiet, cheap, productive and a load of fun to have around. Today I’d like to discuss where they fit into my self-sustainability plans.

This has been a long and really interesting journey and probably started with my first interest in Aquaponics almost 5 years ago. I found the concept of a closed-loop food production system intriguing but questioned the blinkered approach of the purists in this industry. Aquaponics, despite being a really cool way to produce food still seemed overly reliant on technology, power and it was also expensive to build and maintain. Also, over time, minute nutrient deficiencies developed and had to be supplemented by artificial inputs.

At this time I really started researching a more holistic approach to home food production and delved into composting, mulching, permaculture, worms, food forests and heirloom seeds. It was only after my chickens had joined the mix that I started getting a really comfortable feeling that, at last, my system was complete.

It was not the first time that I had incorporated chickens. A client, for whom I built a commercial system, suspended his chickens directly over his Tilapia ponds, a practice I subsequently strongly disagreed with. Keeping my own chickens now has enforced this view even more. Not only was it extremely unhealthy and potentially fatal, but also particularly cruel to the chickens, even if they only spent short periods of time over the tanks.

Here is a short description, in point form, of what I believe is an extremely productive, environmentally friendly, sustainable method of producing food on a micro to commercial scale.

  • Extensive soil preparation and conditioning.
  • Zero Till thereafter.
  • Extra deep mulching.
  • Composting, with and without worms.
  • Design using permaculture principles.
  • Chicken kept for litter (mulching), eggs and meat.
  • Aquaponic system used to produce fish and supply nutrients for seedlings and out-of-season vegetables in a greenhouse.
  • Use of heirloom seeds only.
  • Zero pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
  • Companion planting.

I don’t think I have all the answers, but nature itself is teaching me some valuable lessons. When you do something right, you are rewarded with a cheap, bountiful harvest. When you fight against nature, your results are disappointing and expensive.



Chickens Revisited – Brass Butt Hinges

As mentioned previously and in keeping with my more obsessive nature, the chicken tractor was designed to be a piece of “garden furniture” rather than a mere chicken coop. Functionality, that is easy access and weather proofing were important features, but it also had to look good. I’m not sure if the chickens would know any better, but I would, so I plodded along in my normal pedantic way. A sip of beer, one screw, stand back, admire, another sip of beer, change the screw. You know what I mean. Here is a shot of the lower door fitted with its shiny brass butt hinges.

As you can see this lower door flaps upwards to change food and water, clean the floor and let the chickens in and out.

The next big job was the roof. With the roof sheets cut to size back in Knysna, I thought that this would be a walk in the park. How wrong I was. With no-one helping and with a gale-force wind blowing I battled and swore for hours until I got all the roof sheets on to my satisfaction. No beer drinking during this stage.

The top of the roof is finished off with a ridge but the one that I had bought would not bend down as far as I needed as my roof pitch was too steep, so it was off to the hardware store to buy a more flexible roof ridge. I have also bought white roof paint which I will apply later. The lighter the colour, the more light (and thus heat) will be reflected off of the roof. Here in Paarl, South Africa, temperatures rise to over 45 deg C in Summer.

Here is a shot of the roof. Not bad, even though I say so myself. This was the stage at which one is supposed to throw a big party and drink champagne, but being alone, I just settled for a Heineken.

With a few more bits and pieces to finish off, it was almost time to move it into position and await the “ladies”. Here’s a shot of the loft apartment where all the eggs were going to get laid. You can also see the top flap-door which opens downwards.

The excitement was mounting and tomorrow was the big day !!




Chickens Revisited – And then we varnished

Like any project, the initial construction is the easy part. Where the real time (and costs) comes, is in the finishing. The frame didn’t take more than an hour to screw together with nice weather-proof brass screws and eventually looked like this;

Then the slog work started. As this is an outside structure, proper weather-proofing is required. The frame needed at least 3 coats of a weather-proof sealer and I decided on an oak colour. Here’s a shot after the first coat;

As mentioned previously, the chicken tractor would have a loft for egg laying. This I constructed and made it removable for cleaning. I also wanted easy access to the run area as well as the loft area for feeding and watering and egg-collecting respectively. I also decided to complete the chicken mesh at this stage. In this shot you can see the mesh on and the lower (run) door finished and the supports for the loft floor;

At this stage I could almost taste the fresh eggs that would soon be flowing from this little egg factory and with the Child Bride in the UK for a month, I could now rush this project along to have it finished by the time she arrived home. I also started making enquiries about some laying hens and located a local chicken farm that would possibly part with a few hens.

I placed my order for a date 2 weeks off which would at least give me a time target to work towards. At this stage I also went shopping for some really cool brass hinges and fittings (dankie Niggie dat jy saam gekom het).


This was going to be the most blinged-out chicken tractor in the world.


Anyway, enough for now.



Chickens Revisited – Budget? What budget?

I suppose the first step in any project is to compile a list of materials and a rough budget. The Chicken Tractor was “roughly” a $200 project, and with this number in mind, I started with a rough sketch with approximate dimensions and then went shopping.

The design was an A-Frame structure made up of 3 triangles with approximately 2m x 2m x 2m sides. The height would thus be about 1.5m (Mathematics 101) The 3 trusses would be placed about 1m apart giving me a nice square 2m x 2m structure. I used 38mm x 76mm wood for the frame as this would give me enough strength without being too heavy. This would be sufficient space for the 4 ladies. I would then also build a “loft” apartment for egg-laying with a handy little ladder for easy access. They would also need perches for sleeping at night and it would all be covered in a nice waterproof zinc roof.

I purchased the bulk of the materials in Knysna, cut them to size and transported them to Paarl for assembly. This included the wooden frame as well as the roof sheets. The zinc roof sheets were cut to size with an angle grinder and I used a good old-fashioned hand saw for the timber.

With the timber cut to size the frame was assembled in double quick time. I used “gang-nails” to join the timber which is very similar to how roof trusses are constructed.

As you can see, I used bamboo poles to hold the frames in position as I had no-one to help me in this process.

I have been begging the Child Bride for years to let me keep chickens and the objection has always been that they are noisy and dirty and neighbours would complain. Since starting this project I have learned first-hand some fascinating facts about chickens and I’ll share some with you today before signing off;

  • Laying hens are almost totally silent save for a very subdued cackle when an egg is laid.
  • Without a rooster, hens still continually lay (unfertilised) eggs.
  • A laying hen in good health and age will lay an egg every 26 hours. You can thus get an egg a hen most days.
  • Chickens are FAR more intelligent than you imagine and will happily follow commands and learn from normal fear/greed impulses.
  • A chicken can destroy a garden bed in approximately 15 minutes scratching for insects.
  • They love ranging and get pretty bored sitting around all day doing nothing.
  • Chickens are omnivorous (the same as humans and pigs) and will happily eat meat.
  • They need constant access to fresh, cool water, the more so in hot weather.

Anyway, I’d better be off.









Chickens Revisited – Let’s start at the beginning

In a previous post (Aquaponics-101-chicken-sht-and-swimming-pools), I documented an integrated chicken, fish and vegetable system which drew plenty of comment and scepticism. It entailed housing chickens above a Tilapia tank. Their droppings fell into the tank and were greedily eaten by the fish. The fish poop on the other hand provided valuable nutrients for Aquaponic vegetables in a closed loop system. While I was never comfortable with the hygienic elements of this system, the client, to the best of my knowledge, is still using it and hasn’t killed or poisoned anyone yet.

My circumstances having changed somewhat, I now find myself behind a computer terminal programming and my more agricultural pursuits have had to take place after work or over weekends. I also live alone in a small cottage on a wine farm and commute home to the Child Bride and Brat Deluxe in Knysna every 2nd weekend. This did not stop me immediately establishing a very productive little vegetable garden and recently my thoughts wandered back to chickens.

I am currently able to feed myself at least 3 days a week from my garden and the logic behind keeping chickens was to make myself even more self-sufficient. I have been a forum member of for a few years and I turned to this site for inspirations for a small chicken tractor (moveable coop) that could provide me with 3-4 eggs a day.

In my research I discovered that a laying hen produces an egg every 26 hours. I would thus need 4 hens and set about designing a coop to fit this bill. Ever on the lookout for integrated systems I also figured that 4 hens would also provide me with plenty of manure for my blossoming garden.

The coop would also have to be neat and well-constructed as I rent the cottage that I live in here in Paarl and try my best to keep my landlords happy. I wanted to design and build a piece of garden furniture and not some cobbled together creation of wood and wire.

This then is what I was aiming for, which I found at

The next couple of posts will document the build and my own interpretation of this design.

Enough for now



Could this be the one?

My enthusiasm for, and confidence in Tilapia farming as a sustainable means of producing protein in the 21st Century never wanes. Despite the challenges facing potential investors in this sector, I remain bullish that this is THE species that will provide a large percentage of our protein intake in the future.

I have however, watched in dismay as the industry struggles to find its feet here at the southern tip of Africa.  All that has probably been lacking is a coordinated marketing plan and the resolution of some minor technical issues, the temperature requirement being one.

My promotion, over the years for Aquaponic (AP) farming of Tilapia, is well-documented and not a week goes by without a number of my readers emailing me with questions or advice in this regard from all corners of the world.  While AP is my passion, I also keep my eyes and ears open for any traditional aquaculture systems that seem worthwhile.

Recently I came across a turnkey system locally that really got my attention.  The technical aspects were impressive enough, but when I realised that it was being marketed by David Fincham, who is now at Dicla Farm and Seeds, I really got excited.  David has a wealth of experience in the tilapia industry locally and has served on numerous industry-specific committees.  Dicla on the other hand are a well-respected agricultural supply company with years of experience in the farming sector.

The Dicla Tilapia system can be summarised as follows;

  • Tilapia are stocked in net cages and held for a period of 21days in each net.
  • Every 21 days the Tilapia are carefully transferred to the next cage until after 189 days they are ready for harvest at a weight of 260-350g a healthy plate size fish.
  • All the water is recycled and put through various filtering and cleaning processes to return to the system.
  • Water temperature is maintained by Solar energy from the greenhouse and is retained by the efficient system design so that heat losses between day and night time temperatures are only 1-2 Degrees Celsius.
  • The Dicla Eco Tilapia are fead a well formulated and processed commercial Tilapia Pellet feed.   The Tilapia are hand fed according to a feed table 7-8 times a day.  This hand feeding allows one to monitor the feeding response of the Tilapia, their health and the health of the system.
  • Water quality is constantly monitored and tested on a regular basis to ensure Tilapia health and growth.

I am sure that a couple of vegetable growbeds could easily be bolted onto this system to provide a supplementary crop and assist in the bio-filtration, but I am sure David could answer this question.

If you are looking for a well-designed, turnkey Tilapia system, this could be it.  I was most impressed by the design of the system and the realistic and verifiable production figures given in their promotional material.

Who knows?  This could just be, the one.

You can find Dicla’s website here.

Davids email address is david(at) or phone him on + 27116622846.

Be sure to tell them that;

Synaptoman sent me“, and you will be looked after.