by James Delahooke
As memories begin to fade of the unpleasant events in the Bluegrass country around Derby time, and with no definitive solution being put forward, may I be permitted (as one of the victims) to offer a few thoughts on the problem from a European perspective? I do not pretend to know if there is any relevance to the early foetal loss syndrome in what I am about to say and will doubtless be told that I am barking up the wrong cherry tree!
It has been my observation and experience during forty years of tilling soil that to mess with Mother Nature can compromise your wealth and health. I grew up in a culture where bloodstock and other livestock grazed together or in rotation for their mutual benefit and particularly for the benefit of the land and pasture.One steer per acre in the summer months grazing along with the mares and foals or yearlings kept the excess growth in check and balanced up the rather fussy grazing pattern of the horses. The only mowing required was topping the seed heads and any weeds which rose above the general level of the sward. Additionally if a paddock was due to be rested from horses, 5/10 sheep per acre would be introduced usually in the winter to graze it bare – ‘the golden hoof’ was what the oldtimers called the sheep and they were in no doubt as to the benefit to their grassland.
When I first began to have responsibility for stud land in Kentucky I encountered great difficulty in persuading the staff to have anything to do with other forms of livestock. Cattle were too difficult to handle, they messed up the water troughs and gateways, there were no facilities for treating their ailments, and for loading and unloading them. The excuses were endless.Driving around the Bluegrass country now a bovine is a rare sight and in a horse paddock virtually never seen. The programme is fertilizer, horses and mowing machines. Anyone who has the misfortune to have to mow their own lawn will tell you that grass mowings become unpleasant at about the same rate as dead fish in summer. I find it hard to believe that many years of cutting the grass and leaving it to rot can do anything but cause trouble. How much better if the same grass has been ingested by a ruminant, converted to liquid fertilizer and returned to the land as manure?
I know that experienced agronomists insist that cloven hoofed stock extract more benefit from the land than they return. I do not argue that point – all I know is that the tried and trusted method of mixed grazing is in tune with Nature. A friend in Kentucky recently commented to me that Kentucky’s breeding season crisis was not as bad as our hoof and mouth disease. I gently pointed out that Her Majesty’s Government sends our farmers a nice fat cheque as compensation. If Uncle Sam will reciprocate I shall be delighted! The history of agriculture is littered with examples of monoculture leading to disaster. Our old friend Mother Nature is great if you do things her way – and she can be a right old bitch if you upset her!