22 Apr New Hospital Field at Hampen
Over the last few years we have been changing how we manage our permanent pasture grassland.
Our aim is to increase the diversity of grasses and forbs, particularly herbs and this will provide our livestock with a more balanced natural diet. We have instigated a rotational grazing system, dividing our larger fields into two or three paddocks. The animals spend 2-3 days in each paddock and the idea is that they eat a third of the sward, leave a third and trample a third mimicking the migratory action of wild animals. The amount of top growth in swards is equal to the root growth below the soil so if grass is eaten right to the bottom, the roots contract accordingly making the grasses are very slow to recover. This can be devasting if there is a drought with the shallow roots unable to access water held deeper in the soil. By only eating the top third of the grasses, it means the grasses will recover more quickly as well as being beneficial for the health of the soil biome and water retention too. This system also helps to reduce gut parasites in the livestock.
There was inspirational talk on restoring traditional hay meadows given by Plantlife in conjunction with the PFLA. Part of the talk was about how animals self-select and how they instinctively know what plants will give them the necessary minerals and compounds for both nourishment and their medicinal needs. Mattie Ponchee, a researcher, showed examples of how many traditional farms would have a small paddock with a very diverse mix of flora close to the farmhouse which would be the hospital field. Here, poorly animals could self-medicate browsing on their chosen herbs and shrubs. There were other examples of ‘medicine fields’, flower rich meadows where farmers would turn out livestock when they were looking a bit ‘dull’. There is much anecdotal evidence to the efficacy of hospital and medicine fields but as yet no scientific research which is needed to raise the status and awareness of medicinal herbalism for livestock.
At Hampen we have a small sheltered paddock behind the farmhouse perfect to create a hospital field. This spring we sowed medicinal herb seeds in the polytunnel growing the plants on into plugs which we are in the process of planting out into the hospital paddock. On our dry limestone soils were are able to grow a good range of medicinal herbs and fortunately, there is also a spring in the paddock providing damp areas suitable for herbs such as meadowsweet, valerian, marsh marigold and water mint. As we can see the field from the farmhouse we will be able to learn from close observation and in time hope to increase our knowledge in the natural holistic treatment of animals in this way. Herbs are the future!