In my article last month about Muirburn I mentioned my old herd George Gauld’s description of his relaxed attitude to heather burning as “dropping the bluebell”.

It seems that some didn’t understand the relevance of the phrase. Bluebell were self-styled Scotland’s matches. They were manufactured with Swan Vestas by the Glasgow firm Bryant and May who ceased production forty years ago. In the days before disposable lighters, they were in every smoker’s pocket.

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A well-known Scottish MP acquired the nickname Mogadon because he put the House of Commons to sleep talking about heather burning so I’ll say nae mair.

Some years ago, a local farmer who hadn’t travelled much went late in life to New Zealand. On his return, he was asked what he had seen.

“Naething but gress”, he replied. I read repeatedly, particularly on Facebook about bulls and rams which have seen “naething but gress”. We can’t claim the same, nevertheless growing grass, grazing it and breeding animals that thrive on it has commanded my attention throughout my life. Cold Scotland lacks New Zealand’s long growing season so for us home-grown oats and barley are sensible and economic constituents of our rations.

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By the start of my farming career, the complicated grass seed mixtures developed by RH Elliot at Clifton Park, Sir George Stapleton of Aberystwyth and Somerville, Middleton and Gilchrist at Cockle Park in Northumberland had evolved into what was known as The Cockle Park Mixture, which was widely grown throughout the country.

Many of the constituent varieties such as rough stalked meadow grass, meadow fescue, rib grass and alsike clover are seldom grown now and cocksfoot, maybe unjustifiably, is less popular than what it was then. The mixture we use now consists of diploid and tetraploid perennial ryegrass, timothy and white clover. We sow a mixture of late flowering PRG. and red clover on the fallow. It keeps it neat and weed-free. We have to cut it a month later than we would like but it still gives some useful silage and then we take a second cut using minimal nitrogen.

When we farmed in the hills, we left the grass down for longer however, encouraged by the late Jimmy Burns and, after his untimely death, Johnny Watson, when we moved to kinder climes, we changed to more productive but shorter leys we plough out after four to five years. This year we reseeded three large fields using a different technique in each.

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The first field of 42 acres was under sown into spring barley. We prefer to under-sow into oats however barley happened to be in the particular field we needed in grass. We sowed it immediately after the barley. I was taught that it didn’t matter whether we sowed the grass seed then or when the grain was well through but not in between.

We have done both and I am still undecided about which is best although this year when June was dry and July and August wet, we might have been better to have sown the grass after the grain had brairded. The end result was the straw was very short and the grass well up through it. Fortunately, the fine spell in early September allowed us to combine it easily with the grain, which for obvious reasons we hadn’t sprayed with Roundup, ideal for treating and storing.

We wrapped the mix of straw and grass which should be good fodder.

Field number two of 31 acres is one of the stoniest on the farm which precludes ploughing. We have reseeded it several times with mixed success. In every case, the weeds, particularly chickweed, which we could spray, and annual meadow grass, which we couldn’t, soon reappeared with a drop off in production.

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Last summer, after discing and Roundup we sowed kale which provided a good bite for the cows in early winter. In April we disced and rolled it and left it a month for the weeds to braid then in May we sprayed it with Roundup. After a week we sowed the grass, disturbing the soil as little as possible, then rolled it again.

It didn’t look too good through the very dry June but now, after the very wet July and August looks great. We have stocked it with a hundred gimmers and fifty in-calf heifers and have topped it twice. We are keeping it fairly bare to encourage the clover and are controlling any weeds mechanically.

The third field of 22 acres has been in grass for nine years, which is much longer than usual, as it is visible from the farmhouse. We have a large AI programme and cows which are bulling are easily seen without having to go through them. The sward looked fine after being down so long, however, current research indicates that, although not visibly obvious, production would have dropped substantially so we reseeded it in August.

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We would have sown it earlier as the late seeding risks the clover being damaged by an early frost however our hand was stayed until the end of the AI programme. The threat of annual meadow grass makes sowing grass directly after grass far from ideal. It is hoped that, after nine years, the seeds that the plough brings up will be sterile and those from the surface that are buried will be deep enough to cause no trouble. Time will tell.

The next step is how to develop the swards and how best to graze or conserve them. Of the many articles I have amassed over the years on the subject, most are relatively recent, particularly those about rotational grazing.

An article that I often study is titled “Fertilizers and food production in arable and grassland” written by Sir Frederick Keeble in 1932. Even then he knew all about rotational grazing.

Electric fencing like we have today didn’t exist, so it wasn’t widely practised. He writes about how to balance grass and clover using fertilizer and stocking rates. Plenty of stock in the spring, plenty of clovers later on; too much nitrogen and naething but gress.