At this time of year many of our pastures and meadows are starting to burst into flower. The photo above shows the mass of spring squills flowering in the hotel meadow at the moment. The pastures don’t look after themselves though. If we didn’t maintain our pasture it would start to revert to forest, which for us would initially mean brambles, accompanied by other species which our livestock find unpalatable. Our pastures are grazed by sheep, horses and chickens, and some are cut for hay but they also require human intervention to maintain them.
There are three main reasons for pasture maintenance on our farm. They are; to provide our animals with food, to conserve natural biodiversity and to control vegetation in the orchards. Each of these three reasons has a different maintenance approach, and combinations are also possible
When a pasture has been grazed, the plants that are left untouched are the ones that the livestock won’t eat, such as brambles, nettles, bracken, thistles, and gorse. If these are left unchecked they can take over, gradually eroding the edibility and therefore usefulness of the pasture, which can result in the pasture being lost. It’s a vicious circle. This is where the maintenance comes in, removing the unpalatable (undesirable) species so that the palatable (desirable) species can grow. Removal of undesirable species can be done by hand or machine, depending on the species and the extent of the problem
Three areas of our farm are managed particularly to maintain natural biodiversity, in particular of wildflowers, with the secondary objective of providing food for the sheep. Here the pasture maintenance follows traditional practices and cycles; we cut the meadow for hay in late June and then let the animals graze the re-growth in early winter. Many species of flora have adapted to these traditional practices and respecting these traditional cycles allows this diversity of flora flourishes.
The chief objective for the three orchards is to produce a commercial apple crop, and the secondary objective is to provide grazing for our sheep. Luckily these go hand in hand, with the sheep eating the vegetation beneath the trees, thus making our task of collecting the apples a lot easier.
If your interested in pasture maintenance you will find a document in the how and why section of our web page where it discusses pasture maintenance in more depth.