News from the Farm March 2022
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It's been getting easier to believe in spring for the last couple of weeks as the days stretch out, the birds tune up and the grass shows some brighter tones of green. We're very much a grass farm here and the spring growth is as eagerly awaited as the return of the curlews (they're here). Then we have to decide how to use the grass to best advantage for the time that we have growth and how we manage for the six months we don't.
Over the years we've experimented with a range of variations to the standard approach to grass production, which in essence is to put a fairly constant number of animals in a certain area and leave them there for as long as the grass keeps growing; the balancing act being; enough mouths to keep the grass at the leafy stage of growth - not grazed bare, not shooting up to flower. This gives a continuous period of grazing pressure which favours simple mixes of vigorous grasses and a limited range of other species.
Years ago in an attempt to grow a wider range of plant species for our animals we started growing diverse herb rich grassland mixtures, prompted by seeing our cattle, when moved into a new field, initially ignore all the lush agricultural grasses and clover and go straight to the margins to eat the flowers and â€˜weeds'. Despite some very good advice that under a continuous grazing system the herbs popularity would be their downfall, we tried it anyway and within two seasons there were no herbs left beyond white clover and yarrow, which seems to be a real tough cookie.
Next attempt was to grow a diverse mixture of pure herbs, divide the field into small paddocks with semi-permanent electric fencing and rotate a group of animals around it, moving them on before they had eaten the plants too hard, leaving enough leaf to grow again. This worked reasonably for a few years acting, as some people have termed them, as a medicinal field where groups of animals go to get a boost. Animals would never be on one area for more than a week or so. The lack of grass in the mixture though allowed a lot of unpalatable weeds to establish, our sheep didn't have much respect for the fences and only a limited number of our animals could have access.
The February order form is now open. Unfortunately, this month there was no Banchory market, but you can still order your delicious farm meats and pies to collect at the farm, or to have it delivered to your home next week.
For the following four years we established another field with a herbal mixture plus cocksfoot grass, a vigorous deep rooting species that would hopefully improve the thin dry soil of that field and outcompete more of the unhelpful species. It was divided into paddocks with temporary netting fences. That sorted the sheep but wasn't very robust for the cattle (as well as being quite expensive), limiting our options for rotating species and groups but for several years produced large yields of nice diverse rotational grazing for ewes and lambs.
Outside of these herbal fields we've also tried short term, short grass paddock grazing for the cattle and we've strip grazed foggage (taller robust grasses left standing into the autumn/winter and grazed in situ rather than being made into hay or silage) right up to the end of December.
Aside from the plant diversity challenge there's a much bigger article, if not a book, on all the reasons why it's a good thing to try to move away from continuous short grass grazing systems; soil health, plant health, animal health, biodiversity, resilience (financial, climatic and biological) and on. The challenge is always how. Our latest attempt is the Nofence system. A tech solution which fits each cow with a collar, linked to GPS, linked to an app on my phone. On the phone is a map of the farm and within that we can set the size and shape of a section of a field to be grazed each day. With the cows in the â€˜digital paddock' as they approach the area boundary the collar emits a noise. If the noise is ignored it's repeated, finally followed by a small electrical pulse, encouraging the cow to turn back. The next day the boundaries of the area to be grazed are moved on the phone and the cattle are â€˜let' into the new grazing and the old area is closed off. We trialled it in the autumn for two months and it worked fairly well so for this grazing season we are going to use it on the main cow group to see if we think it will work in practice for us. While the theory is good, the challenges will be many (the cost is also very painful so we are leasing it for a year to begin with â€¦ slightly less painful!) so we will need to see clear indications of benefits before committing fully to it. At this optimistic early stage though it does dangle the tantalising promise of being able to facilitate a radical shift to a much more naturalistic pattern of grazing and animal movement around the farm with all the benefits that could bring.
The March order form is now open.
NEW: You can now also choose to pick up your order at the farmers market at Bridge of Don in Aberdeen on Saturday 19th March, between 9am to 1pm. Alternatively, you can still pick up at Banchory Farmers market on the same day, or collect at the farm on Sunday 20th March, or have it delivered on Friday 18th March.
On our product range for this month: * There's our usual list of aged Belted Galloway Beef and Hebridean Hogget/Lamb, and our range of home cured bacons. * Our famed Wark Farm pies, made with our own hot water pastry recipe and filled to the brim with high quality meat (frozen) * We still have our delicately spiced Wood Pigeon Pies, which we made in limited batch size. These were really popular but will only feature for a limited time. All our beef and lamb meat is cut fresh, which means that it can be frozen at home. It also means that, while we try to accommodate everyone's requests, we cannot guarantee not to run out of certain cuts. We treat orders in order of receipt, meaning that the sooner you get your order in, the more likely it will be that you will get everything you requested for.ORDER INFO: Ordering deadline: Wednesday 16th March, noon. Order confirmations are not sent out automatically, but will be emailed to you by latest Wednesday 16th March 6pm. COLLECTION/DELIVERY INFO: Customers can choose for either * collection at Banchory Farmers market, Saturday 19th March, 9am to 1pm * collection at Bridge of Don, Aberdeen, Saturday 19th March, 9am to 1pm * collection at the farm, Sunday 20th March, from 11am to 2pm * or delivery, Friday 18th March. Delivery is only possible to certain areas in central Aberdeen and Aberdeen City, Deeside and Donside and is free of charge for orders above Â£40, otherwise it is Â£5 delivery charge. If you'd like a delivery of pies only and no meat, we ask you to order a minimum of 8 retail packs to justify having our driver drive out. These are frozen pies, ready to be baked, so they can be kept for a long time in your freezer. Alternatively, you can combine it with ordering some of our delicious meats or bacons or come and collect a smaller order at the farm. PAYMENT INFO: Invoices will be sent out by email at latest Wednesday 23rd March with information on how to pay by bank transfer. The updated order form link is below. As ever please get in touch if you have any queries. Best wishes
Laurel & SaMMarch Order Form