These last few days we have taken Tommy and Chaska, our Irish cobs/coloured horses onto the moor to graze for the day. We changed our sign and let them go!
It has been fascinating to watch them in comparison with the cows. Firstly they show their enthusiasm far more openly and their instinct to explore their space before they settle down was apparent. From these initial observations it is easy to see why they are good complimentary grazers; they forage more and on a different height, as well as being more adventurous. Here they are exploring a pathway through the bracken, opening areas up for the cows;
Cows and Horses – Some differences:
Horses tend to graze and forage within the 2 foot level; eating the seed heads of the grasses as well as their rougher leaves and the tops of reeds. They nibble the tips of the gorse bushes as well as chewing on the older more woody gorse; being a legume these tips will be less spiky and very nutritious, as for the woody bits, I’m not sure. It may have similar properties to the bark of willow (Salix) which both our cows and horses eat, and is useful for rheumatism, arthritis, gout, diarrhoea and dysentery, feverish illnesse, neuralgia, and headaches! They adore this grass and its seed heads, great as it is the predominant grass on the moor;
Cows are predominantly grazers and graze within the 1 foot level, sourcing the more tender grass leaves and more succulent herbs. They do not tend to eat gorse.
Both horses and cows eat hogweed (Heracleum spondylium and maximum – cow parsnip and cow parsley respectively) both of which has a tonic effect on digestion and is good for ailments concerning the respiratory system. Since the cows have been grazing the moor the odd cough that may have been worm or respiratory related has gone. I also noted our 10 month hereford calf that I suspected of having a bit of a worm load, has since cleared his runny tummy and is now putting on weight again after grazing on the moor.
I first noted animals medicinally grazing with our jersey house cow. I would let her dawdle on her way out to the field after milking and she would make a bee-line to the hedgerow. She particularly liked plantains. Here is a ribwort (Plantago lanceolata) but the Greater Plantain (Plantago major) she also ate ;
Plantains are an astringent herb which basically means it can reduce bleeding, besides being a diuretic and expectorant, it also promotes healing and is effective against bacterial infection. What I realised 6 months later is that she had an ulcer in her uterus that meant we could not get her in calf again. We retired her and she had a couple of years in good health before it began to take its toll.
The dandelion is a bitter-sweet, cooling herb that has diuretic, laxative, and anti-rheumatic effects; interesting as my milker was getting on in age. It also stimulates liver function, improves digestion, and reduces swelling and inflammation; the latter is interesting when I consider the inflammatory nature of an ulcer.
In conclusion I think that it is really beneficial that my cows and horses are free to graze such diverse plant life. I fully appreciate the medicinal quality of their forage and I believe it helps them to look after themselves and ensure they are getting what they need – after all this is what they all once did.