Coping with weather extremes

August 10, 2018

We're not used to drought conditions.

I reckon we've had close to 30 days where the temperature has been at our close to 30c. Rain failed to materialise for a similar length of time. The old heads are all talking of not seeing anything like it since 1976.

Looking across pastures I can see lines of land drains. They're doing their job, but ideally they wouldn't work as well in summer! Of course I can't turn them on and off. So what can be done to help keep the livestock in good condition?

Grass condition suffers in a drought, it's obvious.

But then again the thistles look healthy, the verges look verdant.

The first is easy to answer, root length. The thistles and docks have long tap roots that reach down below the rye grasses to find moisture. I have some grass I haven't grazed in a place I'm building a wall right now. The roots are long and the grass looks good and has done all summer.

The council don't travel up into the dales to cut the verges. It makes sense then that the plants grow tall, develop longer roots and can tap moisture laying lower in the soil. The only time they're cut is if I cut them.

Have a look at this film of Greg Judy talking at recent UK conference.

Greg is a US farmer and an advocate for high intensity grazing. Look out for the condition of his fields and the volume of grass left after the cows have passed. They're untidy, like the verges (with fewer weeds). And look at the condition of his cows.

I need to make it easy to graze more sheep in smaller spaces, and move them. The long term aim is better soil, better graze and better sheep - regardless of weather.

I think it would be worth adding in some different grass species that add even greater root depth and medicinal qualities. I'm conscious not only of summer drought, but winter flood. Over time longer root length should also break up our clay soils and disperse water (and air) further down.

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