Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Livestock in farming

This was a very good "newsletter" from my vegetable box scheme "RiverNene"

What goes around, comes around
Thursday 8th November 2007

After many years of conventional management there is a lot to be done before a farm is fit and healthy for growing crops organically. The farm we have just moved to has been managed non-organically since the Second World War. Like most farms in our area it has been used for producing arable crops like wheat, potatoes and oil seed rape. There was a short period in the 1980s when a few lonely cows graced the fields, but other than that it has been animal-free for half a century. Without animals, or manure from neighbouring farms, the soils inevitably become low in organic matter. Without organic matter the millions of microbes that make the soil their home become starved. Unfortunately without these minuscule powerhouses the structure of the soil declines and so too does the soil’s natural ability to sustain plants.

Livestock has always been an indispensable companion to sustainable farming. It is a simple circle of life. The microorganisms in the soil feed the plants. The plants feed the animals. The animals return their manure to the land to feed the microorganisms. And so the cycle continues. So when we took on the farm I knew it had to involve livestock. Our long term plan is to make some of the fields cattle-proof by laying the hedges. Then we plan to work with a local organic beef farm to bring cattle onto the farm, but this is likely to take us another couple of years. In the meantime it has been a pleasure to welcome the first farm animals onto our holding for 25 years.

The sheep that will graze our fields for the winter arrived this week. Not renowned for their intelligence, it was perhaps unsurprising that they settled in immediately, seemingly blissfully unaware of any change in their surroundings. Our grass will keep them well fed over the winter and their grazing, and resulting dung, will help to keep control of the weeds and feed the life in the soil. It truly is a match made in heaven.

Rob Haward

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