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August on the farm

By the end of August it felt like Autumn was on its way. The evenings are getting cooler, there is a heavy dew each morning and the hawthorn and rowan trees are full of berries. The rhos pasture is also looking beautiful, with the bog asphodel turning orangy brown, interspersed with devil's bit scabious flowers. Once the scabious sets its seed, we will be harvesting some of it to grow into plugs to be planted in other nearby bits of rhos pasture. We tried this last year and have found it pretty easy to grow and so have put the seedlings into some of the areas we ‘rewetted’.

After the rain in the middle of the month we’ve also had a fair few horse mushrooms popping up in the fields. Some of the swallows have completed their second brood, and although there is still a goodly sized flock wheeling through the fields, we are still well down on numbers compared to previous years – they just don’t seem to have recovered from the lack of insects and rotten weather when they first arrived.

At this time of year, the cattle and sheep don’t need much attention other than checking each day, and they are roaming over most of the farm enjoying the plentiful range of grass and herbs to eat, with mix of rain and sunshine meaning everything is growing well. This gives us time to catch up on a few bigger jobs and odd bits of maintenance such as replacing rotten gate posts.

In the early part of the month (once bird nesting season had finished) I spent a few days cutting and rolling bracken on the more level section of the strip lynchets (the medieval strip / terraced fields on the sides of the valley). On the flatter sections, its cut with a tractor mounted topper mower (a heavy rotary blade spinning horizontally), whilst anywhere that is at all steep or rocky I use a bracken bruiser towed behind the quad bike.

The reasons for doing this is that the bracken obscures the archaeology, harbours ticks and where its thick suppresses all the other vegetation. This is a follow on from a trial we did with Historic England to look at ways of controlling bracken, in which we found both cutting and rolling to be fairly effective over time at weakening the vigour and density of the bracken sward. The plot we left as a control plot is still over 3ft high, whereas plots that have been cut or rolled for 3 years or so it’s only a foot to 18 inches high and much more sparse.

Between the showers in the middle of the month we had our hay fields cut and baled to provide fodder for the cattle through the winter. We made just over 200 bales so should have plenty to keep them all well fed. Depending on when the weather breaks, they come into the barn late October or early November through to mid to late May. They are fed indoors, and can rest up in a strawed up barn but can always go out into adjacent fields, with a cattle track we constructed a few years ago means the approach doesn’t get muddy. Once the hay fields have been cut, the cows go across for a mooch around and eat around the field margins and the steep, uncut part of the flower meadow – which they love.

We also spent a few days working with the Dartmoor rangers, Serina, Bill & Andrea to replace the footbridge on the permissive path leading to our hay meadows. It was fun project to do, and we finished it off by installing some dipper boxes. Dipper have nested below the bridge before, but one year our (lucky) friend saw an adder make off with an egg. The adder made a brief appearance again as we were building the bridge, so rather than tempt faith by leaving a ledge on the bridge parapets, we’ve put nest boxes in the centre of the bridge. I used a box design developed in Ireland using a plastic drainage pipe, which surprisingly the dippers preferred to wooden ones. Using an offcut of pipe, I’d had in the back of a shed for years, thinking it would come in useful one day, I had enough to be able to offer the dippers a choice of aspect – upstream, downstream, left or right. We’ll hopefully see next year, which one they prefer.

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