Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
hand, livestock farming is a great disadvantage when we feed them on grain because most
of the grain goes to maintain the animal. We end up eating only about ten percent of the
original food value in the grain.
There are already some farmers in Britain making use of permaculture principles in an-
imal husbandry.
One of these was Bruce Marshall, who farmed sheep on the Pentland Hills in Scotland
until his death in 1993. He made remarkable use of a biological resource, the earthworm.
His land was typically poor hill land, boggy and acid. The conventional approach to im-
proving such land would be to put in plastic land drains, plough, reseed, apply lime and
chemical fertiliser, and continue to apply them regularly into the future. It is a high capital,
high maintenance approach, and probably would not have been worth it on his land.
Instead, he chose a modest programme that involved a one-off application of rock phos-
phate to correct a deficiency of that mineral and lime to reduce acidity. This brought the
land to a condition where clover and earthworms could survive. Then he broadcast clover
seed over the existing vegetation, so it became established among the other plants and
brought earthworms from more fertile soil in the valley and introduced them into the hill
The clover, which can 'fix' nitrogen from the air, provides the nitrogen that would oth-
erwise come from chemical fertiliser, while the worms keep the acidity down and improve
the structure of the soil so much that artificial drainage is not needed. The beauty of the
system is that it only has a modest capital cost to start up and, once running, needs no in-
puts from outside at all. The result was more than a doubling of the output of the farm.
Charlotte and Ben Hollins farm in Shropshire using a traditional method of grassland
management, rediscovered by their father, Arthur, known as foggage.
Keeping grazing animals on a conventional lowland farm can take a lot of work, as well
as machinery, buildings and other inputs. Silage or hay is made in spring and summer to
feed the animals through the winter. The pastures are regularly ploughed up and reseeded
and artificial fertiliser applied. Cattle are usually kept inside all winter, more to protect the
wet soil from the damage their feet would do to it than to protect them from the weather.
This means large quantities of manure have to be shifted out onto the fields every year.
The foggage system avoids all this work. Instead of making hay or silage and hauling
it to the farmyard, the winter feed is stored where it grows, in the field. Part of the farm
is simply kept free of grazing for a period in the late summer to early autumn to allow the
grass to grow, and the grass dries where it stands. This dried grass is the foggage and in the
winter the cattle and sheep are let into this part of the farm to eat it. The only work involved
is opening and shutting a gate.
The pasture is never ploughed, so over the years a strong mat of plant roots develops.
This helps to protect the soil from the damaging effect of the animals' feet, so making it
possible for the cattle to stay out all winter and eat the foggage where it stands.
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