Friday, 18 September 2020

Farming for 11 years and starting on a new, significant chapter - regenerative agriculture

Regenerative agriculture is something we have read up about, talked about, watched Ted talks about (Allan Savory talk here) and we have wanted to give it a go here at Saddlescombe for a couple of years now. But what is it and why are we so passionate about it?

It is a system which captures carbon, breathes life back into the soil, encourages the precious diversity of wildflowers and grasses and manages grazing in the extremes of weather we are experiencing.  Which makes it a really exciting journey to be starting on.  

How did we get started?  At the beginning of the summer with some help from Clyde Jones we started to divide our fields up into smaller sections with lots of fencing and water pipe!  Previously we would have moved the animals into a field and let them graze it as they want to, with this system sheep are particularly prone to going back and grazing off the regrowth and not allowing the grass plant to recover.  This damages root structure and decreases organic matter in the top soil which encourages carbon capture.  Instead, through rotational grazing (a principle of regenerative agriculture), we are dividing the field up into smaller sections and allowing the sheep and cows to graze within this space for 2 to 3 days and then moving them onto the next section.  This then allows the previous sections to rest over a period of 2 to 3 months and the grass to regrow and photosynthesise (grass needs to be green to do this), during this process it captures that all important carbon and puts it back into the soil.  This carbon has an important job to do,  feeding all the microbial activity in the soil which creates soil organic matter (good for crops to grow) and creates a healthy root structure of the plants.  This process also creates air pockets allowing earthworms to return and water to infiltrate and reach the places where it is needed rather than running off the fields and ending up where it is not wanted.

The cows in a section, day 1, by day 2 we will move them left.

The ewes in one of their sections, they will have been in this field 2 months, their first section has been in recovery 2 months allowing that regrowth to really establish 

We are already seeing the benefits, the fact that we have grass at the moment, if we hadn't started to  implement the system this year we would be struggling to find enough food for our animals due to the lack of rain we have had this summer.  We are also enjoying having more up close contact with our animals due to the frequency we are moving them although some days we are not very popular when they are not due to be moved!

We are also wanting to get the soil across the farm measured for minerals and nutrients so we can measure progress, so we will look forward to sharing any updates.  

Ted our young sheepdog, now 1, is restarting his training having had a pause due to a shoulder condition that was picked up on an xray.  For now his lameness has improved so we are keeping a close eye on him.  He is certainly enthusiastic!

We are thinking of everyone during these uncertain times.  We hope reading about farming and the incredible nature which surrounds us and is beneath us is a reassuring, stable presence.

More soon 

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Fly and Ted

For more information on our thoughts on livestock farming providing a solution to climate change, please read our blog entry from October 2019.