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FarmHealthy LivingOrganic

Organic Farming: To Hedgerow or Not to Hedgerow?

May 5, 2014 | Emily Donegan

The hedgerow provides shade and a natural wind barrier. Also, a play space for adventurous young children.

I think it is finally safe to say that spring is here—the most magical time of year on the farm. Case in point: yesterday, the boys spent the entire afternoon shirtless, grubbing around in the compost piles behind the barn and filling their pockets with worms. Turkeys have been strutting and gobbling in the field behind our house, a pair of mating otters were spotted in the river that borders our farm, and there is a jar of salamander eggs on our windowsill—all signs that spring is really here! Green grass, spring turnout, and baby calves are soon to follow, and we can’t wait.

Though the cows are still dry and we’re not in our daily milking routine, the days of sleeping in until 6 am are long gone. Joe was out working on fence at 5:00 this morning, and didn’t come in for breakfast until noon! Our big spring projects this year are building perimeter fence around the whole farm, and putting in wide, gravel laneways to replace our winding, muddy cow paths. We hope that these projects will make grazing more enjoyable for both cows and farmers.

Many weeks this winter were spent carefully planning where each fence post would go, which trees could act as fence posts, and where edges of the pasture needed to be cleared or reclaimed. Joe and I like to take all these little decisions seriously, and we sometimes spend a little too much time hemming and hawing about…well, about details that may seem mundane to some. As one of Joe’s more simple-minded farming friends likes to say, “Joe, you think too much.”

We particularly found ourselves thinking too much about one 600-ft stretch of hedgerow that falls between our property line and that of a neighbors’. Should we cut the hedgerow to the ground and reclaim a few extra feet of pasture, or should we leave it there and place the fence just inside our property line?

We ultimately decided to leave the hedgerow, and place the fence just inside it. Hedgerows provide shelter and protection from wind, as well as shade during the hot summer months. And even though they’re essentially just narrow bands of scrubby trees and bushes, they bring an incredible element of biodiversity to an organic farming pasture. It’s amazing to me that such small spaces can harbor so much wildlife action, but they do.

Case in point: the boys and I hiked up to the hedgerow in question last week when Joe was pounding fence posts. The boys immediately dropped to all fours and climbed into the hedgerow like little animals seeking shelter. It wasn’t long before they found what they call a “kill site,” a place where something had killed and eaten a bird. Was it a partridge? A kestrel? And who had done the deed? A hungry coyote? We filled a paper bag with all the feathers, and took them home to examine them more closely and talk about the possibilities. Another thing I love about hedgerows: educational opportunity!

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