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The Shimmering Fields

This year haymaking has not been as stressful as last year. And again. That’s because (oh joy) there has been some spectacularly fine weather. Having a summer at last has lifted everyone’s spirits and has also come just in time for those running holiday places. After four rubbish summers the tourists are making a come back.

It’s quite hard to find people who still do small bales – and have the machinery which will fit into our old style gateways. But after scanning the horizon with binoculars last summer we spotted a young guy doing just that. A short car drive, a tramp across a field and a conversation, then lo, our fields were cut that evening. This year he did everything…cutting, turning, baling…which made it simpler than rounding up the bevy of faithful neighbours who have always helped us out in the past.

It was achingly hot. The air was buzzing and the sky intense. The cows took shelter in their shed under the oak. I could feel the burn on my skin.

First the Cut

Hay Field being Cut www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

P drives the tractor

Cut Hay Field www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Very Neat

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Turning Comes Next

The cut grass is turned until it is dry, over a period of three to four days. It is usually turned once a day.

Tractor in Gateway www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

A Bit of a Squeeze

Tractor in Gateway www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Just about fitted into Triangle Field

Turning Hay www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comTurning Hay www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Curious Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

What is going on?

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Next comes rowing and baling. The turned hay is put into rows and then the baler comes along and sweeps it all up into it’s belly and the bales come out like sausages.

I never tire of this process.

Hay Baling www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comHay Baling www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Traditional English Hereford in Hay Field www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Are you lost?

Tractor Rowing www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The Rowing Tractor driven by C

Hay Baler www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Baler Swallows Grass

Hay Field www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

VERY Satisfying

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Time to Collect the Bales.

We made 280 bales from the Triangle Field and half the Cow Field. I would like to point out here that I was not always swanning about with my camera!  Heaving was done. One evening our friends R & A (thanks!) came over at 8.30 and we got 100 in the shed before dark. 60 went to our neighbours A & P and the rest to our friends T & N. We still have one field to do.

Hay Bales www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Collecting Hay Bales www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Look at that sky…virtually unheard of

Collecting Haybales www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

S on top of the trailer – her first job as intern!

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One More Field to Go

Hay Field www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Path through long grass www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I will miss this shimmering field when she’s gone

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Oh, and this is the green/brown roof on the barn today – I’ve already tweeted this I was so excited by the bees.

brown roof www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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Mary’s Thick Skin

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the cows’ arrival, they have been here a whole year.  We have really enjoyed getting to know them and the gentle rhythm they bring to the days. At the end of last month it was TB testing time. A positive result inevitably ends in slaughter so I was not looking forward to it at all. This area is quite high risk for TB and most farmers build in a certain amount of loss into their herds.  I’m not sure this is possible with only three! Maybe this is why my friend L counselled that I shouldn’t get too attached. Fat chance.

Anyway I won’t spin this out, they all passed. Hurrah.

However, there was a nervous moment when the vet kept Mary-Rose in the crush for longer and had to check her several times. But, she concluded, it was because Mary’s skin was thicker anyway. Funnily enough even though this was a bit of a surprise, it seemed to fit. She has always looked heavier and clumpier than the dainty Belita or the handsome Lucy. As with people, so with cows.

Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The look of alarm as they become aware of what’s coming.

Traditonal English Hereford in Cattle Crush www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Friend T helps with the crush. No you can’t turn around in that…

JulyA2013 014

The vet doing the business and the vets intern who may be a vet one day. This also gives you an idea of how small the breed is. They are nearly two and not quite full grown but even so…

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Haymaking next…

Detonated Summer – Conservation Grazing

Held back, waiting, cool days feeling more like autumn.

Then summer just detonated and caught up with itself, compressing into one week, hampered vegetation finally released from bondage. Mildly shaggy hedgerows and fields have turned to full blown fireworks.

And the jet stream has finally gone north and we sigh in collective relief.

A warm breeze, sun on the face. Heat.

Wildflower Bank www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The sunny bank on the roadside. It used to be dominated with nettle, bramble and an escaped mint. Lots more species now.

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I thought this might be a good time to explain a little more about what we’re doing here on the farm. At this time of year we are busy with habitat management. This basically means pulling out species which have a propensity to become dominant, so that a wider variety of wild plants can get a foothold.

oxeye daisies www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

To help things along we haven’t fertilised the land for over ten years, as wild flowers are not too keen on this. Too much fertility allows the more thuggish species to ascend, shading out their more delicate cousins with their lush foliage and rapidly advancing root mats.

wild flowers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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It all needs to be cut at the right time too, after flowering and seeding, and before it becomes rank and wet in autumn.

wild flowers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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The cows are all part of this management regime, they are ‘conservation’ grazers.

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Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com
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What is Conservation Grazing? I hear you ask.

Conservation grazing is one that benefits wildlife, landscape and cultural heritage. It is designed to meet nature conservation objectives – which in our case is to optimize sward structure for invertebrates, small mammals and birds.

rabbit in meadow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Actually rabbits are not the small mammals to which I was referring but I like the picture so it’s in.
Rabbits cause damage to landscape features such as hedgebanks.
And did you know they have something in their urine which prevents grass from growing. Clever.

Elderflower www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Elderflower champagne

Why graze?

In the UK nearly all the areas which we value for conservation interest form part of cultural landscapes created by humans, often as a side product of subsistence agriculture. Grazing livestock and associated activities played a key role in the formation and maintenance of many semi-natural habitats including grassland, heathland and pasture-woodland, through slowing the successional trajectory of these habitats towards increased woodland cover.

sparrow fledgling www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

A very noisy sparrow fledgling almost ready to fly

In addition to maintaining or restoring such habitats, grazing is also an essential component of many habitat (re)creation projects, for example managed reversion from arable fields to species-rich grassland or the recreation of heathland.

wild meadow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Grass in the Triangle Field – quite a few species don’t you think? Not brilliant, but going in the right direction.

Livestock affect vegetation communities through removal of biomass. This allows less competitive species to become established as dominant plant species are reduced. Trampling also creates areas of bare ground, which may be suitable for plant regeneration from seed or seedbanks, and are beneficial for invertebrates and herptiles.

wild meadow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Together with grazing and browsing, physical damage to vegetation from lying, rolling and pushing can also increase structural diversity. High grazing pressure may limit scrub expansion and in some cases reduce scrub cover. Many invertebrate species are also dependent on the dung that livestock produce (over 250 species of insects are found in or on cattle dung in the UK), while dunging patterns can result in the redistribution of nutrients.

A cows tail is very useful in the heat. Swish swish.

A cows tail is very useful in the heat. Swish swish.

There are many examples of species that benefit from grazing. Many individual plant species benefit, while habitats such as flower-rich meadows are dependent on grazing. Ground-nesting wading birds such as lapwing or snipe need grazing to create the varied sward structure needed to fledge their young successfully. A number of species of bats including both species of horseshoe bat depend on a mixture of invertebrate-rich habitats in which to forage, including grazed pasture and meadows.

wild flowers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

See that window? That’s where the bats come and eat the moths which gather near the light. Sometimes better than TV. Poor moths. But happy bats. And good moth habitat…

What can conservation grazing achieve?

Many conservation organisations now have their own livestock or work closely with local farmers to ensure that grazing continues on wildlife sites that need it. At the same time, farmers are encouraged through Environmental Stewardship to use grazing regimes that will benefit wildlife. A growing number of farmers and other land managers (that would be us) are making a conscious decision to tailor grazing management on their lands to meet nature conservation objectives.

wild flowers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

In addition to a wildlife-rich countryside, conservation grazing can deliver substantial benefits to local communities. Local production of good quality meat and dairy produce with high welfare standards is a key outcome of many conservation grazing schemes. Such schemes can play a role in rejuvenating rural economies while using traditional rural skills such as stock husbandry which are in decline. Visitors to grazed sites with public access often enjoy watching free-ranging animals, and in some cases enjoy becoming involved as voluntary stock checkers, helping to keep an eye on livestock.

Traditional English Hereford www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

When it’s really hot there’s only one place to be. Next time you see a field of cows with no shade or shelter think of this.

So conservation grazing is not about looking back to a ‘golden age’ where rural practices optimized biodiversity, but looking forward to ways in which sustainable management of the countryside will benefit both the wildlife and the communities who live there.

Old Iron Implements www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Another kind of conservation…

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The above text is an edited version from The Grazing Animals Project

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So, that is mainly what we are doing with the cows (apart from loving them of course). As Francis Pryor says in his book The Making of the British Landscape it really doesn’t take that long to improve biodiversity and habitat with the right management. He’s also a WordPress blogger.

When they have their calves in approximately a year’s time we will have to make a decision about what to do next. Apart from trying to conserve this rare breed (that’s the cultural heritage) there’s the question of the male calves. Taking Herald to the abbatoir was a bit of an eye opener. As a meat eater I hadn’t really thought too hard about the grisly business of slaughter and it has had quite an impact on me. It was also the sheer number of animals going through which was pretty horrific – all to satisfy our desire to eat meat whenever we choose.

Livestock breeds poster in barn www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I started reading around the subject in an attempt to process all the confusing emotions which it stirred and in the end decided that there is an argument for eating some meat – just not all the time and much better to be savoured as something special. Ex vegetarian and environmental campaigner Simon Fairlie argues in his book Meat, A Benign Extravagance that it is far better environmentally to eat a small amount of locally sourced meat than to constantly eat flown in vegetarian staples or luxuries such as baby corns and mange tout which are often produced by poor countries where the people are hungry.

Livestock do a very useful job in taking care of huge amounts of vegetation which we are unable to process and meat is highly nutritious and scores very highly on a weight to weight comparison with other foods. However, he is keen to point out, this is not a green light to eat as much meat as one desires, just that it should be occasionally, local and be reared to high welfare standards. It’s not always easy to find and identify this kind of meat so a lot needs to change on this front but where there’s a will there’s a way.

Light on wall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This amazing light pattern was caused by a pan lid.

There is a really good review of it here if you’re intrigued. A very interesting book to read though slightly heavy on the figures but these are needed to prove the environmental impact studies.

Anyway, it has meant a change in eating habits around here. We were never huge consumers of meat but now most meals are vegetarian. And although we always bought local meat, vigilance has been stepped up.

There is loitering on the stairs in hot weather

There is loitering on the stairs in hot weather

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Simon Fairlie also imports Austrian scythes which have been made at the same place since the 1500’s. I had a go on one the other day and it was really light and user friendly. Visit the Scythe Shop to find out more about them. They are expensive but you couldn’t find a better bit of kit. I managed to scythe a few square metres in a matter of a minute. Better still, go to the Scythe Festival in Somerset which is held every year in June.

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fairliescythe

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It’s not all work work work though… !

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Swimming at Bossiney Haven at high tide

Swimming at Bossiney Haven at high tide

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