Working with our Farm Step Tenants – grazing sheep and cattle
By Earth Trust
At Earth Trust our Farm Step initiative is based on sustainable land management (find out more about the scheme here). We have a variety of tenants whose businesses include everything from a wildflower plant nursery, to a goat’s cheese creamery and a woodsman who uses coppice products for hedgelaying.
We work with our Farm Step Tenants in a number of ways, and many of them play a key role in looking after the green spaces we know and love. Here we take a look at the two that people are most likely to see on their visit – our cows and sheep – and how they help look after the land.
Sheep grazing on our meadows helps to keep the sward (or turf) short. This lets more light in and helps the wildflower seed from the previous year grow. This grazing also prevents more competitive grasses from dominating and so more delicate plant species can come through, increasing the diversity of the meadow . We let the sheep graze on our meadows in early spring and late summer to manage this process.
More recently, we’ve started to plant winter fodder crops of oats and vetch (a pea crop) on our arable fields, which means the sheep can move onto them after the summer harvest. This helps us to revitalise the soil ready for the following summer crop, and provides important grazing when grass is in short supply.
You’ll also see cattle ‘browsing’ on some of our sites, including on the Clumps. Rather than nibbling or biting, cattle wrap their tongues around the grass and tear it. This means that instead of producing a short and even sward like sheep, they produce tussocks: clumps of grass which form a much more uneven surface. This kind of grassland is great for invertebrates and small mammals like mice and voles. In turn, these support birds of prey such as owls and kestrels – so the whole food chain benefits. Cattle are less selective browsers, so they’ll eat coarser grasses and even woody species like hawthorn, helping to keep scrub under control. All of this increases the biodiversity of our meadows, keeping them healthy and allowing wildlife to thrive.
We work closely with our Farm Step Tenants to manage the areas grazed, the number of animals grazing, and how long they stay in each area. The partnerships rely on understanding where Earth Trust can add value to farming businesses, and how those same businesses can benefit our green spaces. From the richness of the soil beneath our feet to the birds of prey soaring overhead, visiting Earth Trust would be a very different experience without our Farm Step Tenants.