Members of our team have primary roles and many secondary duties…
Bees – Plant pollinatorsBees (and other pollinating insects) we’d have a difficult time pollinating plants without them. Our aims are to have our own hives here, increase the flowering time range of plants grown on the site and increase the number of habitats for solitary bees and other beneficial insects.
Secondary duties of the bees
None at the moment, but if we get bee hives I’m sure we’ll discuss the pros and cons of harvesting honey.
Birds – Pest control (Insect team)Birds are just brilliant at eating insects that might otherwise eat our precious veggies so we encourage small birds where ever we can. We have many bird boxes around the farm and places for them to nest.
We see birds of prey like Buzzards and Kites over our fields too on the look out for small rodents and birds.
Secondary duty of the birds
Phosphorus cycling – Birds play an important role in the phosphorus cycle. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plants (and animals) it is found in shop-bought fertilisers (P in the NPK chemical fertiliser mix). Birds of all kinds excrete phosphorus (guano deposits if referring to marine birds).
Cats – Cuddle monkeysWe have looked after our pet cats since they were kittens, over 14 years ago now. They love to sit on our laps and be stroked. Rover will start to purr if you look at him! Ginger enjoys a good brush with an old hair brush (he is fluffier than his brother). We very much enjoy their presence.
Secondary duties of our cats
Pest control (Rodent team) – they help protect the germinating hazel nuts and young trees from mice. Our two cats are not as agile as perhaps they once were, but they like to stalk the fields looking for mice. Their diminishing ability to jump around also means that they are little threat to small birds, but we ensure nonetheless that we put nest boxes well out of paw reach.
Chickens – Protein productionWe eat a mainly vegetarian diet. Our four female chickens provide us with a good supply of eggs (four eggs a day in the Summer). Keeping them is an easy way for us to “grow” our own egg shaped protein. We chose the “Speckledy” breed of chicken specifically because they are prolific egg layers.
Secondary duties of the chooks
Ground clearance – Chickens just love scratching up the soil surface with their long nails. Periodically we move them onto areas that we want cleared in good old “chicken tractor” style.
Fertiliser production – Chicken manure is rich in nitrogen and it is easily composted with other materials to produce a wonderful fertiliser.
Compost worms – Organic waste recyclingI can’t remember where we bought our three-tiered compost bin, but I do remember that the Brandling worms (the best for composting food waste quickly) were delivered in the regular post by the postman. They were packed in an A4 padded bag and looked like a mass of living pink spaghetti when we emptied them into the compost bin. I couldn’t believe it! They all appeared unharmed by their journey across land and have been recycling our vegetation into a lovely rich humus ever since. The compost bin has a tap at the bottom, we dilute the “compost tea” before watering nutrient hungry plants.
Secondary duties of the compost worms
None! (but if we were the kind of people who love to go fishing these chaps would be ideal bait …)
Ducks – Slug patrolWe didn’t have a slug problem, we had a deficiency of ducks! After a lot of research we decided to get eight Khaki Campbell ducks. These ducks love to eat slugs. Our good friend Chris Dixon who has kept them for over 20 years describes them as “slug devourers par excellence”!
Secondary duties of the ducks
General pest control – our ducks love to catch and eat all kinds of insects.
Protein production – When they are old enough, eggs for Craig (perhaps).
Comedy – They are very funny 🙂
Earthworms – Soil improvementAren’t worms brilliant? They recycle old organic matter from the top of the soil and take it deep underground. They tunnel around improving drainage and aerating roots AND the excrete worm castings, some people pay good money for that! but we just let the worms to their magic in the earth.
The general web consensus seems to be that there are about 1 million earthworms to 1 acre of land. However this report by Illinois Soil Quality Initiative compared cultivated (ploughed etc agricultural land) with it’s neighbouring grassy borders and found “an average of 148,000 worms per acre within the fields (up to 292,000 worms per acre in one field) and almost four times as many, an average of 589,000 worms per acre, in the grassy border areas”. Great reasons for no-till organic agriculture!
Secondary duties of the earthworms
Sheep – Grass maintenanceWe have four female herdwick sheep. Their main duty is to eat the grass and keep it manageable for us. Much cuter and quieter than lawnmowers or tractor-pulled grass cutting machinery.
We are mob grazing them in sections across our land by sub-dividing the fields using electric fencing. Mob grazing is a technique we learnt about on the Holistic Management section of the Regenerative Agriculture course led by the very excellent Darren Doherty we attended in 2011.
Secondary duties of the sheep
Carbon farming – A more detailed post about that later …
Hedge maintenance – They love to munch our hedges! Which will be great for our alley-cropping system when it is established. Ash and Willow leaves are their favourites.
Wool production – So cool. Our own wool! I feel lots of knitting and felting projects are on their way.