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Posts from the ‘Biodiversity’ Category

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The Hedgerow

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Hedgerow Book www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com*

muddy boots www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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This morning I struggle with the swollen front door, meeting a wall of wind which makes me stagger. I head over to the cow field. The going is getting really tough, each foot sinking into a sticky squelchy hole. A jet of liquid mud and manure is nicely timed to splatter over my jeans. This morning we heard on the radio that the main train line has been washed away by the sea at Dawlish.

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The trees are swaying like giant jellies and the bawling wind is deafening. The rain stings, little pinpricks on my skin. The cows aren’t bothered and they are grazing down the hill, though the moment they see me they pick up their hooves eagerly, and squelch and slip towards me. I have the usual moment of utter disbelief at the state the field, and the usual response it’ll stop soon, won’t it? spring is coming, things will dry out, the grass will recover

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muddy field www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com*

River Valley North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This is the view from the cow field. Normally you can’t see the river very well as it is hidden by steep sides. The adjoining field aslo flooded here.

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Muddy Cow Feet www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Dainty

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Despite all, we have managed to get some some winter jobs sorted out on the dry days. Hedge work has been ongoing for a few years as we are in the process of restoring our hedgerows  – not on our own though, far too big a job for us alone, we have lots of help. It doesn’t come cheap but we think it’s worth it.

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Layed Hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This is new growth sprouting from the hedgelaying last winter. It’s a little rough and ready and not as beautiful as some hedgework but we are working with what we’ve got – in this case, outgrown hazel. Hawthorn whips were planted to fill any gaps, though the hazel is quite dominant. In the past, without barbed wire the bulk of the hedge would have been hawthorn or ‘quickthorn’ as it is known colloquially.

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Layed Hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

You can see here where the hazel was laid down with a cut from the billhook.

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Billhook www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

A billhook

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The thicker hedges will provide a great habitat for wildlife. We leave some trees at intervals, as is tradition. These provide shade and another kind of habitat.

This book ‘Hedgerow’ by Eric Thomas & John T White is now out of print but it is a lovely book and some copies are still available online. I think it deserves a reprint. It’s supposed to be a children’s book but hey, why let them have all the fun?

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Cut native hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This is one boundary which had overgrown into trees. We’ll do the other half next year.

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Hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This hedge down the bridlepath has a lot of sycamore in it – not something you want in a hedge. This year we have taken on getting rid of them by cutting and poisoning the stumps. This work has to be done in the winter, soon the shoots of bluebell, campion and stitchwort will appear.

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Sycamore stump www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

One of the sycamore stumps ready to apply the poison. I drilled holes into the top as well. It looks brutal but will be beneficial in the long run for the all the flora along this stretch.

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Traditional Hereford Heifer www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Hello, what are you doing in the hedge? Bit windy?

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Showing all the useful plants found in a hedge in autumn

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We are also having trees cut for some of next winters firewood, using old pollard points to take the trees back to. Pollarding is an ancient practice of harvesting tree growth at a manageable height. This wood had many uses in the past…animal fodder, firewood, wood for the production of simple household items such as door handles and broom sticks. The Hedgerow book takes you on a fascinating journey into the history and culture of the hedgerow.

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Slightly neater than ours... Hedgelaying competitions are still held every winter to find the quickest and neatest craftsman. I've always enjoyed the process, if you get a chance, do pick up a billhook and give it a go.

Slightly neater than ours… Hedgelaying competitions are still held every winter to find the quickest and neatest craftsman. I’ve always enjoyed the process, if you get a chance, do pick up a billhook and give it a go.

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Hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Hedgework and the resulting firewood

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The hedges’ summer bounty – showing edible and medicinal plants.

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Ash Tree Pollard www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

An ash tree pollarded

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Ash Tree Pollard www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

An ash taken back to old pollard points – this tree has been managed like this for many years. Pollards live for a very long time – some oaks pollards have survived 600 years. I always think about the people all those years ago cutting in this same way.

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Some of the products which might have been made from the hedge

Some of the products which might have been made from hedge & tree wood

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As the grass is so wet there is not much nutrient to be had from what’s left on the pasture. The cows are always hungry, they really love the hay. Every time I split a bale last summer just tumbles out. I have to corral them while I clean out their shed and divvy up the hay, otherwise it’s all a bit hectic. Just don’t get between a heifer and her hay!

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Traditional Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Don’t worry I’m not going to steal it…

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What a lovely haul

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Logs in Field www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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Another beautiful feature of the book are the double and four page spreads in the centre. Obviously my pictures don’t do it justice but you get the idea.

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This is the diversity which you would hope for in a traditionally managed hedgerow.

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And come autumn...

And come autumn…

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109

Hedgerows are steeped in social history

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And just to finish off, the cows in their natural habitat…

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Traditional Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com*

Traditional Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We’re coming, where’s our hay?

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Looping the Bounds

A bowl of plums stands on the kitchen table, ripening one at a time. It’s been a good year for fruit.

Though I felt for the cherry farmer who’s crop ripened all at the same time because of the July heatwave. To grow them reliably in this country the trees have to be tented to protect them from … too much rain, too little sun, too much sun… and of course the wind. Gone are the days of thirty foot  trees and tapering high ladders. These cherries are grafted onto a small rootstock. The huge investment has been made and it’s thirty miles of tenting which has to be raised or lowered according to need. The farmer and his workers are lean.

A balloon flying over

A balloon flying over

This September morning I will loop the bounds, walking out around the three and a half acres which encircle us. I step into the front yard and survey the slight devastation which the cows have wreaked on the galvanised trough planted with Black Scabious , Orange Cosmos and Cornflowers.

Traditional English Hereford www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Yup, that’d be you

We moved the cows into the field behind the house after the hay was finally cut and baled in August (another 280 bales, distributed between us and others).

This was their first visit and they were suitably excited.

Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We put them in here to forage as they were getting a little rotund in the cow field. Now they seem to be lying down a lot, like it’s all a bit exhausting.

Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We cleared out the ground floor of the shippen so they have some undercover quarters should it take their fancy, but this entails them traversing the front yard, a cow free zone up til now, and hence the predation on my flowers. But I have always imagined them using the shippen just like our predecessor Mr. Creeper did. His cows used to come in the front door. We’re working on it.

Traditional English Hereford www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I carry on. Astonishing worlds of spiders webs are draped in the damp stalks. A wren rat-tat-tats from the front  hedgerow where the young Elms are, descendants of the huge trees which once stood here and gave this place locally the name ‘the Elms’. Let’s hope the Ash doesn’t suffer the same fate. I can hear a plane, our neighbour crunches across the gravel and tinkers with something in the shed and a nuthatch barks from the phone wire, perhaps already staking a claim on a stony hole. The swallows are still here, flying high in the sky, clicking and wheeling. Although some kind of catastrophe befell our only pair I was pleased to catch some young fledglings over at T & N’s place when I went to visit the new calf.

September2013 010a

Swallow Fledglings on Wire www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

New calf? I hear you say.

Yes! Born only a few weeks ago to T & N’s Hollyhock this little heifer was sired by Herald, who, for those that don’t already know, was our shared bull who we had to have culled earlier this year due to Johnes disease. Luckily the disease is not passed onto calves in this way. This is Hollyhock’s first calf and she did splendidly. I missed the actual birth but arrived a couple of hours later and she let us approach quite close and only the next day allowed T to pick the calf up and move her indoors. Well done Hollyhock.

Traditional English Hereford Cow and New Calf www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Two hours old

A wood pigeon is cooing high in the canopy and I can hear the jackdaws calling and cackling, landing and then swooping low over the field. The sun is warming things up and a tortoiseshell butterfly is spread out on the ground on some small stones then moves to a post. The Purple Knapweed has gone over, hard black seed heads silhouetted like little soldiers. A few bees are still buzzing around late flowers and the Goat Willow which has self seeded in the front of the house has been stripped of its leaves by the cows. I go through a gate into the garden, a development project which is still at the thinking stage for the moment.

The apple tree is weighted by both fruit and time, this one planted many years ago, it’s flattened profile telling of an espaliered moment. Bill Mackenzie, a yellow clematis, is curled around the swing seat supplying a nectar filling station for late honeybees. It’s whiskery whorls mingle with the bright sepals. One side of the garden boundary is the stone wall of the barn. In front of this are the collapsing stems of Wild Carrot, Yarrow, Woundwort, Deadnettle, Ragged Robin and Meadow Cranesbill.  Windfalls stud the grass.

SeptemberC2013 085

Leaving the garden I move on into the new orchard, part of the back field. Here we have the compost heap and the polytunnel.  The trees are still young and have been slow to get established because of the wind but they are just beginning to produce a small amount of fruit. Sadly, a flurry of anticipation for a few pears was hijacked by a splitting event and then a wasp feeding frenzy. Empty husks of pears floated to the ground like lanterns. Sigh. The Dahlias did well though and they’re still going strong in the polytunnel.

September2013 068

The hedgebank here is full of Wood Avens, Foxglove and Bramble.  The leathery straps of the Harts Tongue Fern are still green, feet-deep in between the stones and the one time feathery upstanding  grasses; of Foxtail, Bent and Yorkshire Fog, are breaking up and bending down.

Senescence

I can see the cows coming down this way as my footsteps make a squeaky sound on the wet grass. Walking up the field, the hedgerow is a jumble of Bramble, Hawthorn, Hazel, Ladys Bedstraw and Dogrose. A young Ash which we’ve allowed to grow away is now fifteen feet, heavy with ash keys drooping like pea pods. A glossy compact Holly nestles comfortably, belonging in its place, and on the bank a plethora of next years Red Campion seedlings jostle one another in a thick bloom.

SeptemberC2013 078

I duck under the electric fence which divides the field from the orchard and behind the birdsong I hear the rumble of traffic up on the top road a mile away. Rabbits have been making new holes as this years’ youngsters claim new territory. The blackberries are fat, dark and shiny, really black. They remind me of my grandparents in Kent and how we used to go out blackberrying and my grandmother would make blackberry and apple pudding or crumble. They loved their damsons too and told us stories of picking fruit during the war years. We are not the only ones who like the berries, flies are also fond. Bluebottle, Greenbottle, Horsefly, Dungfly, Biteyfly and a black one with tawny down trousers. A crow caws from neighbouring airspace, the woodpigeon coos again. On the reddy-orange hips of the Dogrose I find a peculiar growth.

SeptemberC2013 067

Ivy wraps itself closely around the branches of a leaning hawthorn, a twiny embrace. Tiny green nodules are just beginning to show in clusters, when they turn black it will be a winter feast for the birds. Bramble leaves are just going over; red,orange, bright green and yellow. I walk up the finger of land, rising all the time. I look back to the moor, there is a heavy grey cloud squatting on top of a misty tor, while in the foreground small sloping fields criss crossed with hedges hug the contours of the land. A flock of sheep pour into a waist thinning gateway, then spill out again, like an egg timer.

As part of the ongoing hedgerow restoration project we released a Holly from the thickets of Hazel a couple of winters ago. It is now is shooting strongly from the trunk where the light has been let in while some young Oaks have a chance to get away. The idea is to have mostly hedge, with larger trees at intervals. Hedgerows are invaluable for wildlife and it is part of the conservation here on the farm. It’s one of the reasons we get the Environmental Stewardship subsidy.

I reach the top of the finger and beyond the gate is a bright green field with black and white dairy cows lying down. It looks attractive in a clean kind of way but this kind of pasture is what conservationists might call a ‘green desert’, a monoculture landscape devoid of biodiversity. The cows look young; this is the less intensive part of their lives, before they are pressed into service to provide us with a constant source of cheap milk. This demand makes dairy cows the hardest working animals in farming with the squeezed farmers needing to monopolise every square inch of land into production. No such luck for a dairy cow to enjoy her calf like Hollyhock. They will be separated when they are only two days old. When I start to think about it, it doesn’t sound good. Apparently, in the UK, the average working lifespan of a dairy cow is around four lactations (milk-producing periods), and hence many dairy cows are culled when they are relatively young. On the plus side, at least the RSPCA, along with some other organisations are working together to campaign for higher welfare standards for European dairy cows and we as consumers can help by looking for either the Freedom Foods labelling, or failing that, organic.

I then experience what a lot of people do – a concern which is ignited and then changes into a feeling of general overwhelm at the enormity of the task. So, as I pass a beautiful mature Ash, I look up into its branches and get lost. But I will do what I can. It’s an ongoing process.

I come to the outward facing corner on the east of the finger and here is a large Oak with a really nice big bulbous base which a strand of rusty barbed wire running through it which the bark has swallowed in a ripple. The acorns have begun to fall, they are fresh green at the moment, cupped in knobbly cradles with a perky stalk. From here the big Sycamore behind the house is just getting a coating of rust.

I turn into the last stretch back down towards the house. I sit down by Lucy who doesn’t mind me at all and see a tiny ladybird crawling along a stem of grass. The cows are lounging by what we hope one day will be a pasture woodland – not in our lifetime of course, but in a hundred years it might look pretty good. The thicket of Holly and Hazel at the gate is full of chirping birds. The Nightshade is heavy with berries and the Hazel is already forming catkins. This is the spot where we had our temporary home, the straw bale house with caravan attached. You’d never know anything was ever there now, just a few months and the only sign is the blue plastic standpipe now lying in the grass.

My last stop is the upper floor of the shippen, now satisfyingly full of the straw we saved from the balehouse which now gives the cows their bedding (which they also sometimes eat, incomprehensibly). Oh and all those things destined for a car boot sale.

One day.

September is also a month of beautiful skies. Here are some of them.

Until the next time…

SeptemberC2013 100

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

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

The March of May

Cowgirl Shadow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cowgirl goes out in the field…

A cold month but still plenty to see

MayC2013 178Come, follow me

MayD2013 007Triangle FieldMayC2013 153Spring is In the Air

MayB2013 003New Fencing

MayB2013 017Bluebells in Valency Valley

MayB2013 018Wild Garlic in Valency Valley

Traditional English Hereford Heifers in Frost www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comRemember this?

MayD2013 026Not so cold now eh girls?

MayD2013 019Meadow Speedwell

MayC2013 119Dogs Mercury and Harts Tongue Fern

MayC2013 012Sweet Cicely

MayC2013 160Moles have been VERY busy

MayC2013 171A Mole Mountain

MayD2013 018Sow Thistles in the Barn Wall – birds adore these

MayD2013 024Foxglove and Red Campion Taking Off

MayC2013 144Yellow Rattle

MayB2013 032Wild Garlic, Primrose and Bluebell

MayC2013 006There has been discussion about cows teeth

MayD2013 035Cow Parsley

MayD2013 034Plantain

Moo Cow helps with the bulb planting

Remember this?

MayC2013 184They grew!…wild winds and all

MayD2013 032Ok, relax

MayB2013 027Yes, you too…

I Declare an International Day of Inefficiency

Swallow 2

pic CHOG

Today we call M and tell him the first Swallow has arrived. It’s a moment of joy, admiration and awe for its arduous cross continental journey. Now it is perched on the telephone wire which stretches across part of the front yard, preening each wing in turn. Not long before, it was whooping and swooping above the pond and flying low, in and out of the shippen. Its song is peppered with dolphin like clicks. I am sitting on the top step, the slate warm, feeling the sun on my face, my body slowly unwinding, finally released from being huddled, bundled and wrapped. There is a delightful din of a world waking up. Ten years ago there were almost thirty Swallows lined up on the wire by the end of the summer; each subsequent year there have been less and less.

I abandon the ‘to do’ list. I think, today will be a day of inefficiency

I experience anxiety as I hope and wonder about a mate for the Swallow arriving. And if they breed successfully will there be enough insects for them to feed their young?

The massive decline in bee populations catches the public imagination, but all insects are being put under similar pressure by loss of habitat and pesticides. In a farmland setting, loss of habitat means less wild flowers, the planting of monocultures of rye grass or other crops without provision for invertebrates. And why does this matter? Well, in a nutshell…

Biodiversity means the variety of life, in all its forms. It includes the variety of species and ecosystems (communities and interrelations of species) in the world, and also genetic variation. Human beings are dependent for their sustenance, health and well-being on fundamental biological systems and processes. This includes all of our food, many medicines and industrial products, as well as the air we breathe. Without insects and other invertebrates, human life on this planet would be impossible. The enormous diversity of life is of crucial value, providing resilience to organisms and ecosystems.

Why thank you for that, the Amateur Entomologists’ Society!

I go over to the cow field. I can hear sheep and lambs from across the valley, plaintively calling to one another. Standing there, the sky a bowl of blue, I count fourteen Buzzards above, wheeling on the thermals and crying their eerie cries. I don’t know, but I would hazard a guess that they are simply, like me, having a good time. Rabbits run in and out of the gorse bushes down the centre of the field, flashes of white and brown amongst the acid yellow and though their numbers are too plentiful (breeding like…! and no serious predators, apart from a ginger cat) who could begrudge their hoppity heaven today?

The cows are looking pretty, their ruddy coats shining in the sun. After a while they approach and both Lucy and Mary-Rose ask to be scratched. They stand happily either side of me, while Belita tentatively sniffs my face with her gentle pink nose. To think they were so terrified when they arrived and now this. Happy.

Traditional Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Coming back I meet Mr. Pheasant who has made regular visits this winter. A little Wren dips in and out of a thicket, and a Wagtail, the first I’ve seen this year, sits atop the shippen roof surveying the scene.

Male Pheasant www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Violets, Stitchwort and Celandine are beginning to peep out from the hedgebanks. Dandelions are waiting for the bees. Where are the bees?

Dandelion www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I’m waiting for you bees…

I nibble on a disc of Navelwort.

Navelwort www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I could be salad material

A bout of spontaneous seed sowing comes on…

Orlaya grandiflora

Nicotiana sylvestris

Nicotiana Lime Green

Seed sowing www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Ammi majus

Cosmos sulphureus Cosmic Orange

Rudbeckia hirta Prairie Sun

Seed Sowing www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Then I admire B’s artwork…

Barbed Wire Ball Artwork www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Later, I lie on the grass under the big sycamore. The still bare branches reach toward a pale moon, bursting with shimmering buds. I can feel the earth is still damp and cold but the warmed grass is an eiderdown beneath me. I am lost. My eyes close.

Sycamore Buds www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Sycamore Buds & Moon www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comLooking Up through a Sycamore www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

What about an International Day of Inefficiency? Come on, we can do it!

The Ghosts Of the Farm

ghosts

Convalescing in bed a few days ago after a nasty cold I heard some unexplained noises in the kitchen downstairs. It’s a very old house and there are often creaks and groans, as if the weight of the past is sighing through the thick stone walls. We spent so long restoring it we had plenty of time to think about the people who lived and farmed here before, imagining them treading the slabs and floorboards through the centuries. We know that at one time the two rooms downstairs, now separated by a nineteenth century panelling hallway, were just used as one room and this is where the families would have cooked and lived.

Clome oven in fireplace www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Clome oven in the fireplace, used for cooking and baking.

So, we get used to living with ghosts.

 I wonder if that’s Mr. Creeper, I thought, feeling comforted, as always, by the knowledge that the farms’ most recent resident, prior to our occupation, is possibly still with us. What a good name for a ghost, I hear you say. One friend swears she has seen him, a figure by the bottom of the stairs, not unfriendly.

William Creeper was a tenant farmer who moved here in 1922 as a boy of seven. In those days the farmyard was a rocky slope, a continuation of the bedrock on which the cottage stands. We have tried to recreate this unevenness by breaking up most of the slab of concrete which covered it, allowing the wildness back in, including digging a huge hole, the pond, which fluctuates in level with the water table – it has never dried out, so that gives you an idea of all the spring lines that run down the hill. In fact we didn’t realise how wet the place was until our first autumn when it rained solidly for month and water started gushing around the sides of the house and out of the front, veritable rivers UNDERNEATH the house. Digging out the soil from the back of the house and installing a drainage pipe solved most of the problem but the pond, by accident, was what really solved it in the end. Anyway, the concrete was far more practical and I completely understand why it must have been a joy to a farmer, but we’re in it for different reasons.

The Pond

The Pond

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See what happens with no concrete!

Mr. William Creeper used to have a herd of Ruby Reds (North Devons) which shrank to around to nine or ten cows as he got older and the land of the farm was gradually sold off, ending up eventually as the ten acres it is now. There are people in the village who knew him well and we have heard many stories about him. I like to think that I’m following in his footsteps with my small herd which I’m planning will eventually reach a similar number to his.

Herd of North Devon www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Herd of North Devons

Right from the beginning his presence was felt very keenly. The house hadn’t been touched for years, possibly since 1922, and had no running water, rotten floors upstairs and a gaping hole in the roof of the lean to extension on the back, sending rain and wind howling into what is now the kitchen. He lived solely in the other downstairs room, while the rest of the cottage fell into disuse and ruin around him. There was an earth dunny in a little lean to on the side of the piggery.

The dunny www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The dunny

There were dark stories about the owners, relatives of his, who refused to do any work on the property because they wanted to sell, hoping to force him out, the sitting tenant, by making it so uninhabitable he would have to leave. Of course this is entirely possible, but we don’t know for sure. Whatever the reason for the gradual delapidation, he stayed put.

He was eighty eight when he suddenly got ill and became very distressed at having to leave his beloved farm. However, according to the story, once in hospital he was incredibly impressed by the warmth and particularly by the bath and didn’t want to leave. Perhaps a revelation to a man who had washed every day in the farmyard in all weathers at the one and only cold tap, which was only installed in the 1980’s, before that it was the well. He died there just a couple of months later.

He was, by all accounts, rather stubbornly eccentric and loved his cows more than any thing or person. He never married, his cows were apparently the only company he required and they used to come up the front steps and into the house, as the front door was always open, whatever the month. He had abandoned cleaning long ago and when we arrived there was a tell tale area of dirt and grease beneath the door latch to his room, where he’d placed his hand so many times to open the door. We became fond of his traceries and I felt a sadness when about eight years later I finally got round to stripping the old paint off the doors, including his patch of ingrained life.

When we arrived, he had only recently left so there were lots of artefacts of his life around the place, which made him very real. He was a small man and his standard issue hospital style walking stick was propped up in a barn. We still have that. We also have the branding iron which is what farmers used in the old days before the more humane ear tags were deployed for identifying cattle. It is only the C for Creeper which remains, the W we never found, so there is a space where it should be. It is hanging by the front door, a constant reminder.

Old Branding iron by door www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Branding Iron www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comBetter still, we have the prizes which he won for his cattle at the now defunct local Five Lanes and Camelford shows, which he proudly fixed to the joists in the shippen. I love to look at those.

Cattle prize 1952 www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cattle Prize 1965 www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

It doesn’t seem important whether he is a real ghost or not. It is his presence which haunts us, and there is one thing at least I do know for sure – we will never forget William Creeper and his cows.

Returning to Rain and the Season of Mud

Hello, it’s been a while. The Spanish cows I saw were very lovely, they had bells. I will be posting about them and the surrounding terrain of the Sierra de Gredos soon .

But returning from a drought stricken country (this is all they needed on top of everything else) I cannot let this rain go by unmarked.

Like being underneath a damp pyrex bowl on the draining board of life as B puts it cheerily this morning.

Misty Rain Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Rain on Slate Step  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comThe rain beats and bounces on the road, like water hitting hot fat in a cast iron pan. I put on my wellies (which ones, which ones?) and step from the slate step into two inches of shiny sticky mud. Mud is the song of our autumn, our winter, it coats the roads and builds up in squelchy piles in the fields and byways.

Muddy Tyre Track  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Muddy Reflection  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI go over to the cow field. The ditch by the side of the road is flowing fast and the pond is full. I can hear the water cascading down to the river, the bridlepath is running like a stream and hooves sound hollow as they hit the watery slate and clay. Everything drips with jewels of wet glass. I pull my hood up and put my head down.

Rain Droplets on Wire  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Wet Slate  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comThe cows ruddy fur is deep and repels the rain, I can see tiny droplets hovering on their coats. They don’t seem to mind the deluge, preferring the spongy grass to the shed. I conclude that they are pleased to see me when they come running, hoping I’ll have a treat. I stand still and they approach, sniffing me gingerly with outstretched necks.

Grass with Rain Droplets  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I have learnt that cows have a ‘sweet spot’ at their withers (between neck and back), from threecedarsfarm, which you should stroke rhythmically while talking in a low voice, then gradually move on to the whole of the backbone. This builds trust. But it needs to be done in a stall, which we’ll hopefully have by winter.

Heifer Update and Autumn

Dandelion Seedhead www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comThis is an update on the heifer pregnancy panic story which you can read about here if you are so inclined.

Well, I phoned the owners and they didn’t say one way or another but said it was pretty unlikely because of her age. He just said keep an eye on her and if you see some calf feet coming out call the vet straight away As you can imagine this didn’t inspire me with confidence. He did say he would replace her if it was the case as she would be a devalued animal. I wonder if I’m going to talk like this when I start selling…

A more reassuring comment came from www.clothedwiththunder.wordpress.com, a commenter on the blog….one or two of our heifers have (accidentally) gotten in calf at an earlier age than one year. Technically, it’s possible, but for her to be far enough along to show it… probably not.

Thank you from one cowgirl to another.

Autumn is snapping at our summer heels….

wild carrot autumn www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

wild carrot and snail www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Dovecot  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Hawthorn Berries www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

A Million Tiny Wings

Window Seat www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comThis morning a trio of goldfinches are clinging to the stems of the Knapweed, using them as a support to get to the real prize, the flowers of a yellow Hawksbit, just going over. I sit by the window watch them through the binoculars for a bit, transfixed by the efficient processing laboratory of their beaks, rolling and chafing the fluffy seed until they get to the kernel while discarding the rest.Goldfinches

I step outside into the sun, the air is humming with the vibration of a million tiny wings. It is scorchingly intense in this south facing mini world of the front yard, a scree slope of slate shale and old concrete with a smattering of soil. Heaven for invertebrates. A cloud of hoverflies, bees and butterflies rise up as I push my way through the yellow Scabious to get a closer look at a grasshopper. I feel an intense joy at seeing all this life.Scabious butterflies www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comScabious ochreluca www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSt Johns Wort www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.commating craneflies  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSmall White  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

It reminds me of a cycling holiday to Poland in the late1990’s (not the cycling bit) when we crossed over the border into the Czech Republic. After we got a stamp in our passports we took our picnic of bread, sausage and apples into one of the many meadows which clothed the hills there. We were totally overwhelmed. The air was literally alive with insects, thousands and thousands of them crawling, buzzing and humming. It wasn’t so great for the picnic – sitting on the ground was really uncomfortable – within seconds insects were crawling all over us. Eating too was difficult as most of the time was spent batting them away as they whizzed and crashed around our heads. We abandoned the meadow pretty quickly and got back on our bikes. Peacock Butterfly  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com Spider  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comThistle Seed  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comBut it was amazing to think that this is probably what most of Europe was like before the advent of intensive farming. So we wonder where did all the birds go? I was talking to L about this and we both wondered whether Environmental Stewardship money is wasted on the likes of us and might be put to better use encouraging the ‘green desert’ farmers to preserve/create/maintain good habitats alongside food production. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.

The rest of the day I spend ‘desperate mowing’. Despite the clear blue brightness of the sky, rain will come again soon. I pull the cord and she rumbles into life.Lawnmower www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comDaucus Carota www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comPeacock Butterfly www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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