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Never indoors

It's officially spring. The calendar has turned to March and daffodils line the Welsh roadsides, but on the farm, we're not quite finished with our winter grazing. Most cattle head indoors in November and stay there until April, but one of the many reasons we've chosen native breed Dexter cattle is that they are small, hardy and well-adapted to the British climate. They can remain quite happily outside all year round. But while they are happy, what about the fields?

As we come out of one of the wettest winters in recorded history (it's official, not just flat-capped hyperbole), cattle can do a lot of damage when they add their weight to saturated ground. It's why most cattle are in sheds for five months of the year. Even in a year like this, we're committed to keeping our cattle outside. I'm not about to claim that our fields don't bear the hallmarks of their winter inhabitants, nor that our hay contractor never swears as he loses another tine on his hay rake. But more than just mitigating against damage, we have seen the positive effects of outwintering our cattle, not just for our livestock but also for wildlife.

It comes down to the simple practice of bale-grazing. Bale-grazing is a continuation of rotational grazing where livestock are moved around the farm constantly. Fields are divided up and cattle spend anywhere from one to three days in a paddock before being moved on and leaving the previous paddock to rest for three to six months, or even a year. The practice mimics what we find in nature with large herds eating a small patch intensively before being moved on by predators or the availability of fresh forage. It's a transformational way of grazing that benefits the animals, wildlife, the biodiversity of the sward and the health of our soils.

In the winter, when the grass isn't growing, the cattle will feed from bales in a paddock before being moved onto the next section the following day, leaving the previous paddock to recover for the rest of the winter. Each section of the field is used for a day, minimising the impact that cattle have on wet winter ground. Rolling the bales out on the field also spreads the herd over a larger area and allows everyone a space at the dinner table.

It's not just about mitigating damage. The hay we roll out is from our own traditionally managed haymeadows with their numerous different grasses, legumes and wildflowers. The simple act of grazing hay on the fields helps spread this diversity around the farm. Trampling the excess adds organic matter and helps feed the soil without needing chemical fertilisers. And the cattle, spread out along the line, are also spreading their manure. By sectioning up the fields, we're not only giving the ground long rest periods and minimising the time our heaviest stock spend in one particular area, we're also ensuring that the cattle cover the field more uniformly. Outwintering the cattle like this improves the quality of our forage and our soil health. Healthier soils and higher quality forage also keeps our cattle healthy.

Birds follow the cattle as they make their way through the paddocks, sweeping in to take advantage of a worm kicked up by a passing hoof, and in the summer months they'll enjoy the insects that find a rich and diverse feeding ground left behind.

Outwintering and balegrazing is of huge benefit to our farm and its wildlife, and we haven't even touched on the fact that it costs less than housing cattle and uses significantly less carbon. It is productive farming, wildlife friendly and regenerates, adding more back to the environment than it takes.

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