James Ham farms along his wife Martina in Mooyvore Co. Westmeath. Their 52ha farm is 50% under woodland/forestry and the other 50% is mature multispecies pasture including approximately 4ha of spring barley which is used for feed and straw. James has worked hard at greatly reducing the number of chemical inputs on the farm over the years. No insecticides have ever been used on the farm, and over the last 10 years the level of fungicide used on the crop has been reduced to the point that none was applied last year. Chemical fertiliser inputs have also been cut back and replaced with farmyard manure. They run a small suckler herd of about 20 Aubrac cows.
There is over 4000 metres of hedgerow on the farm, equivalent to approx. 1.5ha of linear woodland, which is left mostly left untrimmed. Regular hedge maintenance is by traditional hedge laying. These thick and mature hedges provide not only a crucial habitat for birds and insects, but also shelter for the livestock. The continuous cover forestry system contains a wide range of hardwood and softwood trees. Tree species include hawthorn, blackthorn, spindle, crab apple, oak, elm, holly, sycamore, alder, beech, birch, Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir, Larch, Scots Pine and more. James maximised the amount of open spaces within the forestry plantations to help create wildflower reservoirs for insects and the wet areas and drains are ideal for dragonflies. “The afforested half of the farm, despite being relatively young, has greatly improved the amount of wildlife on the farm. Pine martin are now present, and the Jays are obviously doing their job, as we see little oak and hazel seedlings all over the site.”
James Ham of Moyvore , Co. Westmeath farms with Martina 52 ha. The farm is now 50% under woodland /forestry , with the rest as grass , including approx. 4ha of spring barley.
While they farm as conventional non organic, the level of chemical inputs on the farm has decreased greatly over the years. They run a twenty cow, autumn calving, suckler herd , with the progeny mainly sold as forward stores at eighteen months. Some heifers are finished. Because of increased calving difficulties with other breeds , they changed to using Aubrac , and not only have eliminated that problem, but also reduced feed inputs as they are easier to feed. No stock are bought in, all breeding is by a.i. from selected bulls. This has greatly helped the health status of the herd with the resulting reduction in need for veterinary medicines so leaving less residues harmful to soil organisms.
The spring barley crop is grown as a means of being self- sufficient in feed and straw. No insecticides have ever been used on the farm, and over the last ten years the level of fungicide used on the crop has been reduced to the stage that none was applied last year. Chemical fertiliser inputs have also been cut back and replaced with farmyard manure. Tillage is by conventional ploughing done in the spring. The stubbles are left green over the winter, which leaves a good area for birds to feed on. Wide field margins are left and allow extra area for plants and insects from the hedges.
With the barley crop moving around the farm on a three to four year rotation, regular reseeding takes place. This has allowed them to increase the inclusion of clover in the sward. The level of ryegrass in the mix has been reduced in favour of less nitrogen demanding grasses i.e. cocksfoot and meadow fescue and also some plantain. Red clover silage crops have also been used in the rotation and reseeding undersown to an oats/peas arable silage crop increases fixed nitrogen in the soil.
The over 4000 metres of hedgerow, equivalent to approx. 1.5ha of linear woodland, are mostly left untrimmed. Regular hedge maintenance is by traditional hedge laying , continuing what his father had done in the past. This has ensured that the quality of the hedges are quite good across the farm both from a livestock control point of view, but also, especially, for the preservation of the broad range of biodiversity present. Tree species include hawthorn, blackthorn , spindle , crab apple oak , elm and holly. A great variety of other plant species occupy the hedge banks underneath.
The rotational Hedgelaying work also yields a reasonable supply of firewood , without depleting the source.
They see the woodland/ forestry part of the farm as an extension to what was already there in the hedges . .87 ha was planted with oak in 1995, without grant aid. 6.87ha and 18.26ha of mixed species forestry, both conifer and broadleaves, were planted in 2005 and 2014 respectively, under the afforestation scheme. From the very start, the decision was made to operate under continuous cover forestry principles. Also known as “close to nature “ management, it means that no clearfell will ever take place. Unfortunately, current incompetence by the Forest Service means that we have been waiting for 15 months for a new felling lcence, in order to continue work.
Species planted include oak, sycamore, alder , beech, birch in broadleaf. They also included some hazel for coppice, and I have been able to get sale for some of this locally for use in gardening. Regular cycles of coppice creates conditions for plants such as pignut to persist. Conifers are Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir , Larch, Scots Pine with small amounts of Western Red Cedar , Japanese Cedar and Yew.
We maximised the amount of open spaces within the plantation to help create wild flower reservoirs for butterflies etc. , and wet areas and drains are ideal for dragonflies. The afforested half of the farm , despite being relatively young, has greatly improved the amount of wildlife on the farm. Pine martin are now present , and the Jays are obviously doing their job , as we see little oak and hazel seedlings all over the site.
Firewood is produced for own use from the thinnings. In the older conifer plots, a variety of fungi are giving an indication of a good soil health.
Norminator: Mirielle McCall, Farming For Nature Ambassador