I had an interesting morning earlier this week when I went to visit Dagan James’s farm at Broughton in Hampshire. Now, it has to be said that this “ain’t no ordinary farm” as they say down these parts - no sir – because it’s not growing wheat and barley or raising cattle and sheep – instead the 500 acre farm supports a superb 250 water buffalo herd!
The great Indian water buffalo has been farmed for thousands of years. Originating in the Indus valley in what is now Pakistan, the buffalo is farmed across the world, and is highly valued as a reliable and hardworking draft animal, as well as a producer of rich creamy milk and excellent meat.
Well known for great resistance to disease and with a very hardy nature, the buffalo is able to thrive on marginal land and young stock grow well without any need for concentrates.
Not just about the buffalo
I had not really come to see these magnificent beasts however, as Dagan had invited me over to see the wonderful grass and herb mixed swards that he grows, as not only do they offer a rich diet for his stock, but also potentially they offer a lot for wildlife too.
Of course ignoring these beautiful beasts was not an option – so I followed Dagan over to meet the stars of the show. I could not help noticing that there was only one strand of electric fencing between me and an awful lot of “meat on the hoof”!
But I soon relaxed – a gentler breed of farm animal you could not wish to meet. In fact, within just a few minutes I had got over the novelty factor and instead enjoyed watching them go about their daily business – looking totally at home in the Hampshire countryside.
Dagan then showed me his grass and herb lays – what a treat! He explained how he has tried a number of different combinations, but a grass mix based mainly around cocksfoot with the addition of red and white clovers, sainfoin, chicory and salad burnet forms much of what he grows. In places Lucerne is added too.
I missed some of what Dagan was telling me, as the din of singing Skylarks over-head was making it really quite difficult to hear. An “exaltation of larks” were certainly telling me what they thought of this type of farming!!
Managing the whole farm, not just the fields
I found what Dagan had to say fascinating. He openly told me of the mistakes he has made – but had learnt from. He digs holes in the fields and counts the worms (when his back allows) as he is fully aware of their importance.
He was keen to show me the hedges and woods that he has planted and how he has completely “restored” part of the brook that flows through the farm by fencing the stock out, pollarding the willow and creating shallows and deeps within the water course. Here was a farmer managing the whole farm, not just the fields.
He is also keen on the public – yes people – not something that every farmer wants to tell you. He has created a farm shop in which to sell his produce and also attends local farmers markets as he sees the relationship between farmer and customer as incredibly important.
I hope the farm goes from strength to strength – not just for Dagan and his family, but also for the skylarks and bumble bees enjoying the herb rich grassland and the wild brown trout lurking beside the flag iris in the newly restored river.
As for the water buffalo? Well, they looked in magnificent condition and by the end of my visit, seemed no more unnatural in the landscape than a Hampshire Down sheep!
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