The smell outside is glorious this week as we’ve been making hay while the sun shines, I wish we could bottle the aroma. Our wildflower meadows provide important supplies of pollen and nectar for bumblebees and other insect pollinators, and habitat for ground-nesting birds, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, mammals. They also provide nutritious hay for our animals through the winter months. Wildflower meadows were created by farmers to produce winter food for livestock. The wide range of flowering plants and grasses provides a highly nutritional crop, with an increased protein and mineral content in the forage.
Orchids, Ragged Robin, Yellow Rattle, Bird’s foot trefoil, Kingcups, and Wild Saffron are just a few of the flowers growing in our ancient meadows. The various lengths of roots from the herbs and wildflowers reach down into different parts of the soil, picking up a range of minerals and nutrients which results in highly nutritious hay. Meadow hay is also high in tannin, which is recognised as being good for the stomach and helps to control the worm burden in livestock. For centuries our meadows have been used as a ‘cae ysbyty’ (field hospital) for ailing animals as many herbs have medicinal properties and animals are very good at seeking these out.
The meadows are grazed during lambing time in the spring then the livestock are removed and the meadows are cut for hay in July. This allows flowering plants to set seed. The mown grass is cut, left to dry and turned on the ground over a 3-5 day period to allow ripe seed to fall to the ground and provides time for wildlife to move from the cut field. A corner of the meadow is always left un-mowed & provides late season food for insects. This allows later flowering plants to flower and provides essential shelter for wildlife over the winter.
Grazing animals also remove any thatch that builds up and their hooves trample in the seed and create bare patches. Out cattle provide the manure, it is a natural cycle which results in well fed stock and stunning wildflower meadows which are created for livestock and maintained by livestock, naturally.