Hay Meadows – Important for Rare breeds in Devon
The ancient meadows of this country were managed to produce feed for our native livestock in order to carry them over the course of a long winter on the traditional farm.
In many cases these meadows would have been grazed by sheep and cattle before they were “shut up for hay” in the spring. Later in the year, once the hay meadows had been cut and the hay made, the livestock would then have grazed the “aftermath” of the hay cut though the late summer into early winter. In many cases our native breeds developed traits that suited the different climates, topography and minerals and flora found in the different landscapes across the United Kingdom. These traits developed further with selective breeding into the wide variety of breeds that we see today. Many nature reserves and conservation sites are now managed by traditional breeds of livestock because they thrive on land where this traditional agricultural practice is still in use. In a sense the meadows shaped the animals as the animals shaped the meadows and their shared history is part of our valuable rural culture.
Many of our native breeds are as threatened as our meadows; several breeds are rarer than the Giant Panda. Linking the conservation of our meadows and our native livestock helps to make clear the importance of the whole management ecosystem and the part ecological farming plays in conserving our wonderful semi-natural habitats.
Dunsdon Farm – Livestock Management of Hay Meadows
At Dunsdon we manage our hay meadows in a manner that is both sympathetic to the wildlife of this beautiful North Devon location, whilst providing fodder (in the form of hay) for our herd of Highland cattle.
Our Highland cows will be grazed on the hay meadows generally from late march and into early May, before these fields are closed up. A hay cut is then taken annually after mid July, and into early August this allows the flowers and grasses to set and drop seed, any earlier and all of nature’s hard work would be wasted.
Following the hay cut the meadows are grazed until mid to late Autumn, depending on weather conditions.
As part of our Devon meadow re-creation project every second or third year we either green hay cut or seed harvest from the most suitable fields providing seed for other fields at Dunsdon and nearby sites.
The best time of year to view the fields at their very best (ie. In full flower is early to mid July), but anytime of the year offers a chance to see the Dunsdon Fold of Highlands, grazing the pastures and helping to conserve some rare and important habitat.