Autumn is a time to take stock and look to the year ahead. We have had a very busy summer making hay and silage with the help of neighbouring farmers

Thankfully our stores look as full as they can be and we are prepared for the winter ahead with lots of hay and silage to feed to the flock as the grass growth here on Dartmoor slows down as the weather turns colder. 

I am writing this article the morning after a very long day of sorting sheep yesterday. We gave all of this year’s lambs a check over, wormer and foot trimming to ensure they are all in fine fettle to go onto new pasture now they have been weaned from the ewes. The ewes themselves are now also enjoying some good pasture set aside earlier in the year for them to rest and recuperate on after months of feeding their lambs prior to tupping in November.  We head off to the annual Whiteface Dartmoor sheep sale in Exeter tomorrow to hopefully invest in a pair of new rams to bring some new blood into the flock as the daughters of our current rams enter the flock and the bloodline of the tups must therefore be changed to avoid any inbreeding.

Progress

Whilst we are taking stock of the past agricultural year and looking ahead to the next it seems reports of devastating natural disasters such as the horrific burning of the amazon seem to be on the rise.  We, as many others have done, have donated to the world wildlife emergency fund to try to do something to help, however it feels like a very disconnected contribution and you are still left feeling like you want to and should be doing far more. 

At the beginning of the year we made a new year’s resolution to farm more with nature and although in the greater context our patch of Dartmoor is only tiny, it is somewhere where we can have a direct positive effect on the habitats and wildlife around us. As the summer draws to a close we have been looking back on what measures we have introduced this year to help the climate, habitats and wildlife, and are looking forward to how we can take the next step to farm in harmony with nature even more – any suggestions from readers will be greatly received! 

We have by no means got everything right yet and there’s a long way to go, however with positive results being seen by organisations we are working with, such as the Westcountry Rivers Trust, we are on the right track. These guys have noticed a rise in the numbers of successful fish spawning along the stretch of the River Teign and the tributary which runs through our land as a result of our works to remove the overgrowth shrouding the banks thus allowing more light into the waterway itself. Our bees, kept by the local doctor, on our land, seem to be thriving and are enjoying the new clover seeds spread over the paddock in which their hives sit and the amazing display of foxgloves in the hedgerow this year.

It also seems to have been a great year for butterflies with the hay meadows being positively alive with so many! Moss our collie took to running through the fields laid up for hay, in pursuit of the wonderful array of them – thankfully it seems they are far faster than him!  We took a conscious effort this year to keep a closer eye on the flowering grasses within the hay meadows allowing them longer to be enjoyed by the pollinators before harvesting. 

I am relieved to see that the 8 acres we reseeded with a herbal ley and wildflower mix is now germinating. Unfortunately the seed was drilled just as a prolonged dry spell hit and thus it has taken some time to take hold. If successful, I think this will be a great example of how modern farming and nature can work hand in hand. 

Lewis and Moss in the hay meadows 

This new ley contains a plethora of traditional species of grasses, herbs and flowers that will provide a rich abundance of food for pollinators whilst also being healthier for the sheep, giving them a varied and healthy diet. Essentially this new ley resembles a well-cooked, balanced and tasty meal with all the necessary goodness and nutrients to the sheep rather than the generic ‘commercial ley’ mixes so commonly used in agriculture which in effect resembles more of a white bread and Coca Cola diet to the flock, ensuring they gain weight quickly, but without any thought for their long-term health. 

Additionally, the use of more plantain within the sward, frequently dubbed a ‘weed’ by so many, will ensure we have sufficient forage as the increasingly long spells of dry weather hit thanks to the plantains very deep root structure which can access both nutrients and water from depths that other plants cannot.

I am a firm believer that farming is part of the solution to the world’s climatic and wildlife problems. It’s very easy for the press to blame farming for so many of the worlds issues today. However to dub all farming as bad is very unwise as the right type of farming not only doesn’t cause a detrimental effect to the world, but actively addresses the issues we see today. I am very excited to expand on this further in the next issue. 

I hope that I will help people to understand that the modern movements of veganism and such like, are merely opting-out of the problem and that supporting the right type of farming through sourcing your produce from local, responsible farmers is the only way to make a real, lasting positive effect.

Lewis Steer

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