Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
The Hollins have kept beef cattle and sheep on this system for many years and made a
steady living. There is a great deal of skill involved, both in looking after the stock and in
managing the grassland, but very little work. The workload is so low that a tractor is only
needed to cut thistles once a year.
Their farm does not produce as high an output per hectare as it would if he made hay or
silage and wintered his cattle indoors, but it produces more output per unit of energy used.
In fact, the amount of energy produced on this farm is many times greater than the amount
consumed which is something that cannot be said about the majority of British farms.
Farming with Trees
Although Bruce Marshall has planted a lot of native trees on his improved land, neither he
nor the Hollins have yet taken the step of planting trees as animal fodder. Many trees have
foliage which is a nutritious food for cattle and sheep, and this foliage is available in high
summer, when there is often a temporary shortage of grass.
The trees can be planted out in the pasture, as in parkland or a traditional orchard, or as
a hedgerow. The design will be tailor-made to fit the unique situation on each farm. The
distance between the trees, or layout of the hedgerows, must be carefully chosen, so as to
cause the least shading of the grass for the greatest yield of tree fodder. The choice of tree
species is also important. Ash trees, for example, do not come into leaf till the grass has
already done 60% of its growing for the year and they only give a light shade then. They
also have leaves which are very nutritious to animals, so they are a good choice for this
kind of planting.
The energy cost of transport is eliminated because the tree fodder is grown exactly where
the animals live. The trees can simply be pollarded when the fodder is needed. Pollarding is
cutting all the branches off a tree at the same time. The branches regrow to give the brush-
headed appearance so typical of riverside willows. This ensures a regular supply of young,
leafy branches.
The trees give shelter to the animals, so they can use more of their food to grow and less
of it just to stay alive. Leaf fall from trees can also give a big boost to soil fertility and this
can increase grass growth more than enough to compensate for the loss of production due
to competition from the trees.
This combination of trees and grass makes up a simple forage system, similar to the
chicken forage system. It is another example of what we mean by stacking and of taking
a multiple yield. The intensive chemical farmer, using large inputs of machinery and fer-
tilisers would produce more grass on the same area of land, but not more total produce.
Skilful design has replaced the use of fossil fuel energy.
The trees need not only be for animal feed. They could also be for timber or for human
food. There is great potential in Britain for growing chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts, quite
apart from the whole range of fruits which can be grown here.
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