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Wild flower hay meadow and feeding

We have a wild flower hay meadow. Thinnish moorland soil, NW facing slope. We've taken three hay crops off it over the last three years and not put much back in.
The sheep are there in Nov/Dec and are given supplementary feed so there is some addition of nutrients to the meadow but nothing else.
We want it to stay wild flower, as we like it that way. Had read that the wild flowers with deeper roots bring up nutrients for the grass, but maybe there are not that many nutrients down there to bring up.....

However, the amount of grass in between the wild flowers is less than we'd like.

We were thinking that a top dressing of fertilizer could encourage the grass.
We do not have a muck spreader or any other equipment.

Our tentative plan was to buy some slow release artificial fertilizer and spread it manually on the upper half of the field. If we put string across for marker lanes and weigh the right amount for the lane, we could get a reasonably even spread. (The grass in the bottom 10 to 20 feet of the field is by far the lushest, so we are picturing the nutrient running down the slope to some extent.)

Any recommendations as to types of fertilizer or comments on the plan?

Please don't say weedkiller, or plough it up and re-seed because:

1. We can't afford that
2. The top soil is too thin and rocky for ploughing
3. We want to keep most of the wild flowers - the sheep like eating them as our Soay are browsers, not grazers and we also like providing natural feed to the local linnet flock.

The hay with lots of wild flower leaves dried into it is popular with the Soay. Just want a slightly higher yield, and making the grass grow a bit longer seems the best way to do that.

No idea what it'll do to the flora but have you considered chicken manure pellets instead of artificial fertiliser? That's what we use (when we get round to it) for the trees.

Used chicken manure in the past in a garden - in fact for fruit trees. Not compared prices with artificial but suspect it is more expensive as I remember years ago a bucket of pellitised chicken manure being of £6 price bracket and that wouldn't go that far on a field.
Also concerned as our chickens free range up the hay meadow and so just might pick up a chicken disease.

Slow release is not absolutely essential, just seemed preferable to instant.
Rob R

Get another field and grow grass in it, or fewer sheep, you can't have good grass yields and wildflowers, hence why so many wildflower meadows have gone.

The bottom of the slope has the lushest grass, by a factor of 2. So reckon there will be some gain from fertilizing upslope. (Since the sheep like eating the wild flowers too, if they get bigger leaves, so much the better.)

Ignoring all the wild flower bit, anyone got any advice on fertilizing a sloping hay meadow, by hand?
Cheaply as possible.

I've always spread fertilizer by hand and broad spread it from a plastic bucket. In the good old days, their cruel daddy would get all four of his kids in a line and together the five of us would do the fields strip by strip. Now I have to do it on my own, which obviously takes me a lot longer but whats time? It pales to insignificance compared with the price of bagged fertilizer these days. For financial reasons rather than ones of conservation, I've cut right down on fertilizer, going from six bags down to just the one this year.
Midland Spinner

If you fertilise the grass you will probably lose the wild flowers because the grass will out-compete the flowers. Another reason why the old wild-flower meadows have gone.

At the moment you have finer grass species which thrive on the poorer soil and don't bully the flowers. If you add more nutrients the coarser grasses will be able to grow and will crowd out the tasty morsels that your sheep like.

You can probably find out quite a lot by looking wildflower management for nature reserves at the BTCV or Wildlife Trust websites - management for nature conservation (i.e. wild flowers) basically relies on reducing the fertility of the soil to starve off the coarser grasses and allow the finer ones and the flowers to get a foot in the door.

If your meadow is a long-standing never-ploughed / reseeded one you might qualify for some kind of grant which would pay for some extra hay to make up for the poor yield of your land because this type of habitat is so rare nowadays - just a though.

posted in wrong forum

I think I would also try to use chicken manure pellets instead of artificial fertilizer. Maybe this helps. I absolutely love wild flower fields and I think it is a pity that nowadays there are only a few flower fields left. Some time ago I came across a florist in Glasgow and they had beautiful wild flowers. Hopefully you can obtain some of the flowers on your field.

If chicken is the way to go, could you put your own birds up there inside an electric fence perhaps, and rotate them over the ground for a few weeks?

Or make liquid feed out of their manure and apply yourself?

Donít plough and reseed with anything other than meadow seed or you will end up with the top of the field at the bottom in a very short space of time.

Amongst other land we have 4 acres of meadow grass; weíve had it for 10 years. In that time we have pig mucked it, cow mucked it and given it lime. It is on a gentle slope. Itís been left fallow this year and rested even though last season it was eaten off completely this year it has been full to the brim with wild flowers including some kind of orchid. When rested they do comeback surprisingly vigorously.

The grass amount only increased as a direct result of us spreading.

The paddock behind the house was also meadow itís on a much steeper gradient. However, some bright spark (namely my father) had it ploughed and reseeded some 20 years ago to gain more grass. It worked initially, until livestock walked on it then the top of the field fast became the bottom. As soon as it rains it turns to mud regardless of the amount of grass or livestock, the only way we prevent this is by keeping livestock off it altogether in damp and wet months which in the current climate means not having it grazed at all, which leaves it pretty pointless having in that scenario.

The substructure of the soil is damaged with ploughing the roots of meadow interlock and thus when a cloven hoof is walking on them do not slip and slide the way rye grass (I guess itís called something else now) does.

Meadow grass is best for slopes other grasses for flat pasture, flat pasture cut for grass is on a cycle of 5-4 years around here. It is all ploughed and re-seeded every 4-5 years.

We were old that any ground not treated or maintained for 7 years will drastically decrease itís growing potential and should/would need to be reseeded. However, I assume they were talking about the local ground/pasture/meadows. Iíve NEVER seen anyone plough hillsides and reseed in the near on 30years Iíve lived out here.

We are in the heart of the Peak District, HTH, itís all based on our actual experience I guess some environmental scientist will have other input.

If you can dry cast chicken manure it would help, I should suspect Smile

Forgot to add, personally I would not plough in any circumstances. If the soil is already poor the short term benefit would imo cause long-term harm, and probably harm that you wouldnít be able to rectify in your lifetime.

I so wish the top paddock had never been ploughed.

You can make your own liquid fertilizer out of any kind of manure. Pig manure is the best manure, if you can get a wheelbarrow full and water it down well it is surprising how far that will cover. Itís a messy smelly job but the results are worth the effort.
Rob R

Chicken versus artificial, apart from the issues of producing the latter there isn't much in it. You do need to move them very regularly though - you can see the patches where they have been as they're full of ryegrass. Great for grassy bulk but rubbish for wildflowers.

At the moment our chicken free range over the paddock out the back, a few venture up the hill into the hay meadow.
No electric fences owned - and boy would they scream if we penned them in.
I do scrape up the chicken muck from their hut, but it all goes into the compost heap for the greenhouse.

Having said how thin this was earlier in the year, we got quite a good hay crop - about 95 square bales, about 20 more than 2010 when June was so dry - and the alternating sun and showers through August have lead to there being some very good grass growing in there after the hay crop. Not seen it that good for a while.

Interesting about the sub-structure of meadows. We have very fragile ground here and any damage takes years to grass back over properly. After seeing the tank tracks that beef cattle can cut into the ground, when we bought our own stock we went for small light sheep - Soay. And that has worked well.

I have an acre field which is mown for hay every year. 15 years ago it yielded 120 bales. Now it is down to 70. Much less grass and more flowers. I have spread chicken manure on it and, last year, straight nitro, in an attempt to redress the balance. I will probably continue in the same vain to increase grass until I can get nearer 100 bales off it.
Nitrogen (either pure or in chicken manure) makes grass grow at the expense of the other plants, I wouldn't like a "commercial" type hay field though.
Mrs R

Nitrogen (either pure or in chicken manure) makes grass grow at the expense of the other plants, I wouldn't like a "commercial" type hay field though.

How is what you're doing different?

I think it is the amount . If I wanted "pure" grass, then I would have to put min 3 or 4 cwt to the acre twice a year. But I can't keep on with diminishing yields year after year. Not with hay at daft prices.
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