The Meadows Group’s main mission is to be a forum for the exchange of knowledge and experience in meadow management, restoration, and creation. The group exists to help and support those who own or manage meadows so as to maintain them as areas of high biodiversity grassland, now absent from most farmed landscapes. In this post we give a couple of examples of feedback we’ve received – and for which many thanks for sharing.
Getting hay cut
Recently, Martyn and Alison (CMG members from Llangain, near Carmarthen) asked for some advice on how to get their meadow cut for hay. This is often a problem faced by small-scale landowners with meadows, if they don’t have the means to do it themselves. As we’ve noted in previous posts, small fields are not economic for farmers to cut and collect hay, unless they are right next to where they will be working anyway. Herb rich hay is not sought after by most farmers because it doesn’t contain enough protein and calories as winter feed for modern breeds of cattle, as opposed to silage grass which was developed for the purpose. Often, small-scale landowners’ fields are not easily accessible by large modern farm machinery because of narrow tracks and gates, steep slopes, and soft ground. Most of these problems applied to Alison and Martyn’s field. But fortunately, there are sometimes ways round all these problems. Martyn and Alison did get their field cut, and they sent us this account of how:
“Thank you all for the advice and guidance offered to enable us to get our top 4+ acre meadow cut and baled. We managed to get the baling of our top field completed at the very end of May, just before the first rain of any substance to fall since middle March. A little early as I seem to remember from my childhood hay baling, but then it was free?
We approached our neighbouring farmer with the question of would he be able and willing to do it and take the hay. Within minutes of the phone call he and his neighbouring farmer arrived sucking a lot of air as they assessed the dilemma of accessing, making and taking the hay from the field.
The difficult issue of getting the antiquated equipment along a 600 metre lane and onto the field through a 10 foot gate was solved by the farmer simply digging a little bit of the dividing bank out to enable all the machinery to access our field through his.
They cut, turned and baled the hay in ideal weather conditions creating 110 small bales. With nowhere to store any hay here, they divided up the crop and took it. The one farmer has a wife who enjoys her equestrian enterprise, so his hay was destined for her horses. We chuckled to ourselves listening to them discuss the quality of the hay and the ability of both of them to make us feel that they were doing us a favour….
Anyway, we achieved the mission. I was keen to see what 4+ acres would yield. There did appear to be much grass remaining in the field but I guess this may have had something to do with the machine, or the tines remaining on it. We were grateful. It was noticeable that all the flowers present in the previous two years were not in abundance this year? In all it is some 10 years since the field was in any productive use. It was grazed for around 6 years by a handful of Welsh Cob ponies before we became custodians in 2017. It has been lightly grazed once and topped at the end of 2018.
Timing (as Laurence mentioned) is key. Their hay/silage comes first and a mere 4 acres doesn’t warrant urgent priority, even if it was free.
Looking forward to future years, whilst the machinery will continue to age, there will be a continued need for animal fodder but we may have our own Orchard grazing livestock by then. If anyone very near to Llangain would like me to ask our neighbour if he would be interested in baling their hay in future years then please let me know and I will ask.
I did ask the question to a farming agent in Carmarthen initially, he was rather dismissive and not very helpful. It’s worth mentioning that on observation, local livestock farmers are not that interested in meadow hay at all. None of the farmers asked have any comprehension of what is and what is not good for their livestock in meadow hay. For generations now and certainly since I was a teenager, farmers are only concerned about the yield they are able to produce rather than the quality or variety of grass species present in the hay. Hence, perhaps the importance of Meadow preservation groups like ours, to spread and promote the message. Without any doubt the world has recently changed forever, so now I wonder if we will see a resurgence in old fashioned ways and values?”
If anyone would like to add their comments or ask questions about the above, please use the “Leave a reply” facility below.
Where to graze when its all meadow
In this example, the meadow owner has had sheep on the land for many years and has kept areas sectioned off for marsh fritillary. Through his management, all of the land (which is on a steep hillside) now has orchids through the meadow. This gives him the problem of where to put his sheep, which would delight in eating all the flower heads. A solution has been found this year via a neighbours land.
A thank you to our members for sharing these points with us.
Thanks, Rachel. It’s quite disturbing the things we know and hear about modern farming. A real eye opener can be found in the June 2020 edition of British Wildlife magazine, p381 under heading “Slurry stories from Wales”. Shocking read but confirms what I see as we go around commercial farms. On a more positive note the same magazine carries on p 367 news of our Marsh Fritillary discoveries in 2018 & 2019, of which of course Meadows Group owners played a significant part.
I know it’s difficult but it’s a shame that the meadow was cut in May, i.e. so early in the year. This would not be allowed under a Glastir agreement for traditional hay meadow management.