Bog mats and mob grazing

03 August 2017

We are busy planning the next Bowhouse Food Weekend in September. Every day is a school day, and we are learning many new skills with events now becoming a regular feature on the estate.

Renovation of the West Lodge had begun, and as always, we have taken several steps back, in order to progress. Demolition of the 1920’s extension has been completed and a new access road is being installed on a “Bog Mat” due to the soft ground – a technique developed in battlefields to enable heavy guns to be transported to the front line. Ours is a layer of tree tops placed onto the bog, with stone covering them to form a floating road.

We are hopeful this week that planning permission will be granted for a new farmhouse at North Baldutho, home of Ally, Netty, Aron and Leona who are rapidly outgrowing their existing house. The new building will be constructed to look like and old black tin shed, and so will be an exciting project.

Grass is continuing to grow at an astonishing rate. With no fertiliser applied under the organic conversion, the clover has really done its job by fixing nitrogen to the soil from the atmosphere.

Mob Grazing trials are underway with the past couple of months helping us to learn the ups and downs of a system aimed at improving soil organic matter. We have mapped the whole farm to establish the base year and will watch to see the effects. Intended to simulate ancient herds of grazing animals, we are using small 0.25 ha paddocks to move the group across fields in a controlled manner. Watching the animal behaviour change, it is clear that they prefer to move as a mob, rather an as individuals.

Almost all of the early lambs born in March have now been sold and we have begun selling the later born Texel lambs. With so much quality grass available, it is no surprise that the youngstock has grown so quickly.

Harvest has started, been interrupted by rain and now becoming frustrating. Our record on unproductive days was combining 40 metres of winter barley before rain stopped play. Again, we seem to be suffering from the position of the Jet Stream, and stuck in a low pressure cycle. At least the time has been well spent on estate maintenance and workshop repairs.

Planning is already well underway for next year’s harvest with cropping maps now finalised and home-saved seed planned for much of the area. Additional land will enter the organic conversion and be planted with fertility-building crops such as vetches.

The Environmental Focus Area land, which is 5% of our cropped area dedicated under EU rules to benefitting wildlife, has been cut now. We are looking forward to seeing the clover come through before planting spring milling wheat. We delayed the cutting to avoid disturbing abundant Corn Bunting nests that had been identified by Yvonne Stephan from RSPB.

At this time of year, with the urgency of harvest apparent to those involved, making the time to discuss health and safety issues and reminding everyone of simple routines to help keep operators and bystanders safe is time well spent. Fingers crossed the sun shines and there is no pressure!

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