FarmersWeekly: 05/11/04 - Farmers Weekly

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FarmersWeekly: 05/11/04

I’VE DONE my favourite walk at least a dozen times, and it’s never been the same twice, writes Tim Relf.

That’s the thing about marshes: the scenery changes. It changes depending on the time of year and the weather and what stage the tide is at, for marshes are a place in permanent flux.

My walk is along a stretch of the Saxon Shore Way beside the Swale estuary in north Kent. I usually start from the village of Oare, walk round to Conyer and then retrace my steps.

It’s not a particularly long walk – I guess it’s not much more than 10 miles – but in the crowded south-east, where it”s often impossible to get away from the noise and hubbub, this is one place where you can find solitude and tranquility. (There are also a few nice pubs nearby, another essential component of any walk.)

This is an open, desolate landscape. First thing in the morning, or last thing at night – when the landscape is often swathed in mist – it can seem an eerie, mystical place.

Winter is my favourite time of year. Overwintering birds abound, and the nature reserve here is famous for its birdlife – a wetland site of international importance. Birdwatchers may well be the only people you”ll see out here some days, if you see anyone at all.

You can sit on the sea wall – the estuary on one side, farmland on the other – and watch the tide rising slowly. On cold, still days, the water is as flat as a mill pond.

You can look across to Fowley Island (the island of fowl), watch the tide rise, and listen to the dink-dink-dink of yachts” masts.

My favourite time of all is low tide, when the view is of a flat, mudscape, riven with inlets and patches of water. Some people say the smell of the mud at low tide is horrible – but for me, it’s the smell of childhood, of hours and days spent outside walking and fishing in marshes like these along the north Kent coast.

FarmersWeekly: 05/11/04

Best use of Grassland in decoupled future:By Jonathan Long

 MAXIMISING SHEEP production from grass and avoiding feeding concentrates when possible is the ethos behind one New Galloway producer”s production system.

Marcus Maxwell runs 1600 Romneys and 400 Mules alongside 170 suckler cows on his 560ha (1400-acre) farm. “We try to maximise production from the grass we can grow and even cows are only fed silage through winter.”

This winter up to 600 ewes and 500 hoggs will be put away to other farms for wintering, explains Mr Maxwell, who will speak at this year”s British Grassland Society winter meeting. “

Away-wintering should allow our own grass to recover and ensure we have more cover ready for lambing ewes.” Lambing at Viewfield Farm starts in mid-April and runs for just a month.

“Ewes are set-stocked onto lambing fields about 10 days before lambing starts and left there until the end of May. The aim is not to handle a ewe at lambing and, for the last two years, we haven”t lambed a ewe.”

Mr Maxwell avoids setting lambs onto ewes, preferring just to leave them to get on with things. “This year we averaged 98 lambs from every 100 single-bearing ewes and 185 lambs from every 200 single-bearing ewes reared to marking.”

While Mr Maxwell”s system is dependent on grass, he relies on improving permanent pasture rather than sowing leys. “We try to improve about 60 acres of grazing ground each year by stitching grass and clover seed into existing swards.”

Breed choice was based on what Mr Maxwell thought would do well on his unit. “Romneys graze better than any other breed we”ve had and seem to do well under pressure. Ewes put on condition over autumn and then have fat to burn off during harder times.”

BGS president John Vipond says the future of beef and sheep production post-CAP reform will depend on making the most of grazed grass throughout the year. “Grazing stock outside all year round removes the need for expensive buildings and cuts the cost of forage and straw conservation.”

 However, in an effort to make the BGS meeting accessible to more producers this year, it will be held at three different venues (see panel).

The second producer speaker at these meetings will be farmers weekly Farmer Focus writer Wilbert Girvan. He will explain how he outwinters 300 Luing suckler cows on hill ground at Buckholm, Galashiels.

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