Hill Grazing

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Low Airie, Glenkens – 12/5/20

The cows have now been out at Low Airie for five days, and it’s been fascinating to follow their progress using the satellite tags. I must admit that it’s extremely addictive to wait for each update and refresh the app to find out which beast has gone where.

Within hours of their release, one of the steers slipped under a watergate and escaped. He roamed around on the roadside for a couple of hours, eating grass out of the verges before ducking back through the same watergate to rejoin his brothers. It might have been the perfect crime, but the satellite tracker caught him “red-handed” – and the information then allowed me to reinforce the watergate to ensure that he didn’t escape for a second time.

Despite having access to almost two hundred acres of the hill, the beasts have not left a forty acre zone near the main access gate. They normally return to the same place to sleep every night, and they often run exploratory missions across the hill between three and five in the morning. I would have missed out on all these details without the help of satellite monitoring, and the tags have really added a new dimension to the project.

Part of the theory behind giving the beasts total free reign across an enormous area was to give them the chance to decide where they went. Having noticed that they were tending to hang around in a wet, willowy flush over the past few days, I went in to explore the ground and see it at first hand. This project has been exciting in so many ways, but what a surge of delight to find that the cattle have already made a visible improvement in this flush, treading down the moss and mowing the new grass to a springy little crop. Cow pats were humming with flies and beetles, and while the improvements are confined to no more than a single acre of trees and bogland, I was wildly encouraged to see my grazing theory in practice.

It’s too soon to spot improvements in biodiversity or to monitor botanical change, but working on the basis that nature loves dynamism and variety, here was a short and choppy patch of grass in an ocean of long and tussocky stuff. Imagining that I was a greyhen raising a brood of young black grouse chicks, this spot would be right up my street.

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