Ballachly Farm: Small but mighty in diversity and history
Field Surveys 2020
The special places of Ballachly Croft
The “flower meadow”
A hidden gem of a spot, the “flower meadow” is tucked away in an obscure corner of the croft not directly accessible from the outside and without big glaring attractions. Instead what makes this place fascinating and special is the small treasures to be found down in the grass, there is an amazing diversity of plants in its sward. And so the story of the field is one of small pleasures. The looking for, and the finding of lots of different plants in amongst the grass.
This little field has been an inspiration to me, managing this special environment has influenced how I think about sheep health and the role the land has in that. As a family we have been managing this field for wildlife for 25 years, just for its own sake, the lessons I have learnt have tied into my response to farm management innovations that are being discussed in various forums today. The combination of the need and desire for changes in farming techniques to help responsibly feed and cloth people has joined with the experiences I have taken from managing a more natural pasture to spark a complete change in farming style. “happier healthier sheep makes for greater yarn”.
Why does this matter? Well the wide range of plants in the “flower meadow” makes for a superior diet for my lovely sheepies to eat. A better diet is very important for how I try to focus on producing the best wool for the best yarns we can. I cannot stress how important I believe this to be true. pastures like the “flower meadow” are key to the improvement of the health and well-being of Ballachly’s sheep.
They say you are what you eat, true for me (so I am equal parts ketchup, sausages and eggs) and its also true for the sheep. The better the diet the healthier the sheep, the healthier the sheep the better their wool and the better quality yarn I can offer you here at Caithness Yarns. Sadly most sheep these days eat a diet of high sugar grass with some clover added. This diet is designed to make them grow fat as quick as possible for the meat trade, its not their natural diet which is why farmers need to give them mineral and vitamin supplements. A wider and more natural diet is one which allows where the sheep to choose tasty little treats from a plethora of species, responding to their natural instincts for say more iron, or a certain vitamin which they instinctively graze selecting by taste and small from the number of choices in a natural meadow.
The sheep are maybe slightly slower to their full growth, but the growing they do is healthier. Fast growth rates are not of importance to me, the main crop of Ballachly is wool and in service to the quality of this slower is better. High sugar grasses might lump on weight, but if sugar is bad for me(and it is, making fat Graeme and fat sheep), then it is to be avoided. A lower sugar and broader diet is healthier and I think with a better foundation for a long healthy life for the sheeps. There has been a lot of research on the importance of early diet in another mammal, people, this clearly shows better neonatal and early life nutrition has lifelong benefits, I content this must be also true for sheep, why would it be different.
Field Survey 16th June 2020 After a change in the weather we have had a week of rain and then sky high humidity and fog, very strange weather. I waited an extra day to survey because the weather was foul and visibility very poor, but 1 day extra no biggie, and the Tuesday was much
Field Survey 8th June 2020 A big flower day at the flower meadow, I found a dozen or more growing spears of the lesser Butterfly Orchid! The protection of a small colony of this very rare plant was the very start of the focus on environmental Farming here oat Ballachly. There had been lots of