Monday, 20 November 2017

It's time to plant trees and to learn how to do it!

November is the start of the traditional tree planting season for bare root trees that are two to three years old. Normally, planting of bare root trees ends in March when the plants wake up after winter and start to grow again..

A bare root transplant
But things are changing. Mechanisation and industrialisation of the tree nursery business means that a much smaller number of very large nurseries on the best agricultural land now produce many millions of trees each and they have been able to extend the winter and planting season by keeping "bare root" tree plants in cold stores up until June or even later

Then there are trees grown in germination / propagation modules under plastic tunnels These can be planted at any time as they are well rooted in a ball of growing medium but these are much more expensive and difficult to handle on the planting site. A tree planter can carry 100 or more bare root plants in a bag over her shoulder but plants in modules have to be palletised and are a bit of a logistical nightmare on large, remote planting sites.

For my tree scheme the seed of the ,"native broad leaved" species that I plant must have a known provenance; in short the seed is collected in Argyll and is certified as such. It can then be sent anywhere to be propagated for two or more years before I plant it.

Because I am not a forester I went on a tree planting training course last weekend to learn how to establish a wood and a few basic rules emerged; plant good quality trees with well developed roots, smaller transplants are better than long whippy ones, don't let anything (voles, deer, sheep etc.) eat them, control the weeds and finally the actual planting is a skilled job. Rachel in the picture plants between 1,000 and 2,000 trees a day depending on conditions, I'll get her to do mine.




Monday, 6 November 2017

Nutritional wisdom of poultry .......low cost and low carbon egg production.

The first limiting factor in animal production systems is dietary energy. You can feed all the protein, minerals and vitamins you want but unless animals have enough energy in their ration they will not thrive and produce,

In egg production systems we feed a balanced energy rich, protein rich pellet fortified with minerals and vitamins...... everything the hen needs for egg production. These "layers pellets" make up about 70 per cent of the cost and 70 per cent of the carbon footprint of egg production.

There is an alternative to proprietary rations for for free range hens A large poultry farmer in the Netherlands has 24,000 free range hens fed on biscuit and bakery waste ( high in energy). Because they are free range they can also eat insects, worms, frogs....even mice and plant material to balance their diet.Low carbon, low cost eggs Research shows that hens can select an optimum diet if presented with several different feeds, they learn to do this over time

Real "free range" they go everywhere
My own hens have access to layers pellets and mixed corn ( whole wheat, kibbled maize, oats high in energy). They eat more of the mixed corn than the pellets and still lay perfectly well so are they showing "nutritional wisdom" and balancing their own diets with the wide selection of proteins available out there?

Given the scientific evidence that hens can and do select an appropriate and balanced range of proteins in their free range environment so I am tempted to feed only mixed corn which is cheaper than pellets and has a lower carbon footprint than pellets.

References

Forbes,J.M. and Covasa,M. Application of diet selection by poultry with particular reference to whole cereals, World's Poultry Science Journal, vol 5, issue 2, 1955, pp. 149 - 165



Friday, 3 November 2017

Yoga for owls........ the ,"Half bound lotus" posture.... really!

If you go to a yoga class you will have seen the, " half bound lotus stretch" before ... but "chair pose with dump" is rarely seen in class.



Perhaps we can make a calendar with these clips.

Why do barn owls (Tyto alba) live, hunt and breed in barns?

Stealth hunting 
As I have said before the weather in the W. Highlands makes the place unfit for human habitation in winter, it's cold ,wet and windy. It's the same for barn owls. Because they evolved as stealth hunters with silent deadly flight in warmer , drier climes their feathers are not waterproof and their insulation is poor. Heavy rain, snow and strong winds make vole hunting difficult and energy expensive.

Field mouse about 15 % of owl dinners
It has been estimated from barn owl pellet analysis that voles make up about forty five per cent of the barn owl's diet ,the rest, mainly shrews and mice are found in the same grassland habitats.  These largely nocturnal hunters need to catch 3 to 4 voles each night which is difficult in autumn and winter when voles are  less active and harder to catch.All you ever wanted to know about owls

Historically the solution was to hunt in winter around and in farm buildings. This was an effective strategy for thousands of years when corn was stored in ricks and barns which in turn were heaving with rats and mice. If you have a bird table in the garden you could be feeding owls as well as tits and finches . Spilt seed attracts mice and mice attract barn owls. Barn owls in winter

Yesterday there were two barn owls using the barn from dusk at about 5.30 pm until 8.00 am this morning, we know this from the timing of the video clips. During the day the hens are fed in the barn, they spill feed, the feeders are there 24/7 and this attracts mice.

So my barn provides protection from severe weather and a regular supply of food. This is unusual as most modern barns are not accessible to owls. Mice and rats are controlled with poisons.

The owls also conserve energy by hunting from perches on fence posts in daylight but they are prone to mobbing by crows, rooks and gulls. During daylight they are prone to predation by goshawks and occasionally buzzards .

Last night's video shows an owl comfortably at home in the barn preening, defecating and doing yoga while keeping one eye on the floor for mice.




Monday, 30 October 2017

Two barn owls displaying aggressive behaviour over a dead mouse

The trail camera was busy again last night in the "Owl hotel", not just one owl in the barn but two and they are squabbling over a dead mouse.

We think that one of them, the one on the left is older and the one on the right is probably a juvenile as it seems to be more submissive. It we could see the colours of the wing coverts perhaps we could be more exact.

If there are any owl experts out there perhaps you could give us your view?





Sunday, 29 October 2017

Barn owl watching and partying.......... wildlife watching after dark

Barn owls fit in well with the photographer's millennial  lifestyle, coming home from  from another party at about three this morning . He got this short video with his camera phone.

The owl flies out of the barn then up the road and perches on a branch of a big sycamore.

Under the rafter where the owl perches he found pellets (bundles of regurgitated bone and fur) so it was probably there for so time sitting out the storm.




 He then set up the trail camera directly opposite the perch with a dead mouse for bait but it looks as if tonight something else took the mouse or the owl swooped in too quickly for the trail cam.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Roundup ready crops........ Monsanto's unholy grail

This week the European Union could revoke the licence for the use of the weedkiller glyphosate (ROUNDUP). Glyphosate (ROUNDUP) is a non-selective, post emergence, broad spectrum, systemic herbicide.  in other words ," if it's green it's almost 100 % certain that glyphosate will kill it" and its probably killing us too.EU vote on Roundup

Roundup is used world wide
If you are under 40 years old you have  been ingesting glyphosate in one form or other for the whole of your life'; in biscuits, potato crisps, bread and vegetables.If you are a farmer, gardener, green keeper or forester you have been directly exposed to this chemical in  it's concentrated form and when diluted as a spray.

The holy grail for the agro-chemical industry since Roundup was first marketed has been crop plants that are tolerant to glyphosate. These genetically modified "Roundup Ready" varieties have two big advantages for Monsanto; increased sales of Roundup and they can sell the GM crop seeds with the chemical as a package. For the farmer there is 100 per cent weed kill and the crop survives.

They have a virtual monopoly. Currently in the USA 90 % of soya beans and 70 % of the corn crop are "Roundup Ready". They are doused with glyphosate, and farmers have to go back to Monsanto for their chemical and seed package each year, they have become a captive market, almost sharecroppers.Roundup Ready Corn

Tomorrow in the media you will see the response of the agro-chemical industry (MONSANTO), the farmer's unions and a few tame politicians. They will reject the science behind the vote and argue that the world cannot be fed without Roundup. There are alternatives to Roundup readiness and we can feed the world without it. More on that later.