Hello, I’m Delyth and I am the Farm Manager and Visitor Experience Officer for Llanerchaeron. This means that I look after the farm and the field operations as well as the Welsh Black cattle herd, Llanwenog flock, Welsh pigs and many more. I also have to consider the quality of farm visits, what we have on offer for our visitors, what experiences we can share with them to make their day memorable and hopefully encourage them to visit us again. In this blog entry I’m going to discuss spring and what’s happening on the farm this season. Rather than talk about lambing or calving I’m actually going to share a thing or two with you about the field operations. These are integral to managing the farm effectively and rearing our livestock to the best of our ability. Without getting the foundation right at this stage we could cause ourselves problems as we approach autumn and winter.
The element of self sustainability at Llanerchaeron is evident in the design of the property. The courtyards all flow to the back of the house with produce coming from the rick yard, stockyard and garden courtyard to the servants’ courtyard for preparation. This was a progressive way of working during the 18th Century and I think that it remains important today.
Following the Second World War, the government’s focus was on production and consequently, farming became an intensive high input system with very little consideration for conservation. During the 1970s the common agricultural policy was revised again and agri-environment schemes were developed and encouraged more traditional and sustainable methods of farming.
Keeping this in mind we’ve formed a crop cycle at Llanerchaeron which includes alternating productive grass leys with cereals and root crops. The cycle moves around the farm annually, giving us the opportunity to produce as much of our own feed as possible, reducing our feed costs, encouraging biodiversity and improving the quality of our grassland. Using the cereal crop as an example, the stubble is left over winter to encourage the growth of broadleaf plants as well as creating nectar and food sources for insects and invertebrates as well nesting sites and food for birds like the Skylark, Yellowhammer and Barn Owl.
The whole cycle ties in well together and complements our historic hay meadows perfectly. This is basically how it works, the hay is best for lambing ewes and in calf cows, whereas the better quality silage is more appropriate for finishing cattle, giving us great quality beef. The cereal crop is harvested, rolled and fed to young cattle and finishing livestock along side the straw (alternatively be used as bedding). The root crops is ideal for finishing lambs over winter, reducing the pressure on our feed stock and budget and producing some rather lovely late season lamb. Rather brilliant, wouldn’t you agree? The alternative would be to buy in concentrate feed, which at a cost of £200+ this winter, is neither as environmentally or economically sustainable.
The work to put this system in place starts in March and we rely on contractors to complete the majority of it. To begin with we spread our own farm manure on our early silage fields and fields to be ploughed, increasing the nutrients in the soil. We then plough and create seed beds to sow grass and cereal crops such as wheat, oats or barley as soon as possible to ensure maximum growth. We tend to go for turnips or Swedes as a root crop for the lambs; they are sown in June ready for grazing in October to produce our lovely Christmas lambs. Once all this is in place we let nature take it’s course, the environmental schemes that Llanerchaeron are taking part in discourage the use of pesticides and fungicides in order to support the invertebrate population. Come May, we focus on our early silage cuts. It’s comforting to get this early cut, particularly when our recent summers have been so unreliable! In July it’s the hay meadows turn, they are cut and tedded and baled to provide us with the bulk of our winter feed. Over the coming years we will be involved in a meadow project alongside our ranger Gwen Potter so that we can further improve our meadows at Llanerchaeron, so watch this space!
This type of system reverts to more traditional methods and encourages self sufficiency, sustainability and biodiversity. It is a system that is becoming more and more common among farmers as changes in the industry challenge them to become more efficient, as well as more ecologically and environmentally aware. In the past this has not been known as a system that suits everyone but, a generation of intensive farmers are slowly changing their mindsets and beginning to realise the potential of reverting to these traditional systems. Who knows, maybe our grandfathers had a point?!