Grassland options for smallholding

I'm looking for some advice. I hope this is an appropriate newsgroup (if not...sorry)
I have recently bought a cottage with a couple of acres of grassland, which was previously grazed by horses and was in a bit of a state (big bare patches and lots of docks). I've never had any land to care for before so I'm a bit naive regarding land management practice.
The rest over the autumn and winter has done the grass good (less bare patches and I trimmed the docks with a strimmer), but now I need to manage the land when the grass starts to grow. I see 3 options:
1. Get some sheep. I'm not sure how much of a commitment this is. The neighbouring farmer has a flock of accredited Texels, so I would worry about ours escaping into his flock. We suggested he might like to borrow our grazing, but he's not that keen. I could cope with feeding them in winter, but I know nothing about husbandry, legal requirements etc. We could improve the fencing and go for it, but I worry about who would care for them when we are away on business or holiday. I see sheep up on the moors in summer that must go for days without care...so is it such a commitment?
2. Let the grass grow and cut it for hay. This sounds like a traditional, environmentally friendly approach, the image of golden grass, lots of wild flowers and butterflies is attractive; but I imagine cutting two acres with a scythe (or brushcutter) twice a year could be hard work! Perhaps a friendly local farmer would take the hay? What is the best cutting regime for creating a hay meadow? Is there an alternative to a brushcutter or scythe that would not cost the earth?
3. Buy a ride-on mower and cut it regularly. Expensive and a big time commitment. Anyway, they are fields, not a garden. I don't like the townie image!
We don't want to put horses on it after seeing the damage caused by the previous occupants and we have other plans for the stable.
This must sound so naive to the 'agriculturally aware', but any ideas or advice would be gratefully received.
Rob
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This is what happens when grazing horses, they reserve a corner for a toilet, and graze part very hard. Parasites get to be a problem, even with doses..

Unsuitable for pedigree sheep. They are too much trouble, recording where they are, etc.

Not suitable for the first year, at least. You need to get it back into sync.. What you need is something to graze it all very hard, preferably before the 15th of June (roughly the date when grasses start to go to seed, and become unpalatable.) Possibly someone with yearling sheep that are intended for mountain pastures would put sheep in for a while, they would need some nuts as well, but about 10 sheep per acre. The New Zealanders were doing things like this 40 years ago.

Do this every two weeks, or at most a fortnight (!), before the cut grass has enough mass to form a cover, and scalds the grass.

Its hard to use a horse stable for anything else.. I know..

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Greymaus
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Interesting! Can you please explain "get it back into sync"?
You seem to be saying that if I just let the grass grow, then hay meadow it will not make. This appears sensible as good meadows must take a long time to establish in the wild. However, if we sow suitable seeds (as suggested by Pete), would this not give us a short-cut to the same end?
Rob
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Get all the field to the same rate of growth at the same time.. roughly, after horses, one part of the field will be over manured, and grass that takes advantage of that will predominate, the other, heavily grazed part, will have grasses that can live with that.

Its been thousands of years since meadows were established `in the wild'.. Consider history as being `before cheap manure' and 'after (same)', the farmers then sowed grass to reestablish fertility and mowed it for winter fodder, after, most grasslands are resown to grow fodder as a first option.

I would partly agree with Pete (!), you don't need a grassy field to produce money, (even if that would be nice), you want to have one that looks well, and looks managed. I am not a great believer in reseeding as a solver of problems, that will not solve a management problem, but a change in management will. I would recommed, if you reseed, either lawn seed, or mostly a LATE perennial ryegrass, along with timothy, meadow fescue, and clover in the grass seed mixture. Depends on soil type, of course, in a lot of Yorkshire that I knew years ago, it would be hard to beat the grass that is growing there now. (The seeds of those grasses can be obtained by asking some farmer that mows the traditional way, in early July, to let you gather up the seeds that have fallen on the hay barn floor (free too!).. Another thing is that if you reseed, the tilling will spread the dock seeds across the whole field.. I do not view Docks as a serious problem, though, easily killed with Asulox (check name, that's from memory), or heavy grazing. Now, Ragworth, that is a serious problem in pony paddocks here, will actually kill stock. Nettles are incredibly hard to kill.
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Greymaus
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snipped-for-privacy@gmaildo.tcom wrote:

SBK? Seems to keep nettles under control here.
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Old Codger
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On Tue, 06 Feb 2007 19:19:30 +0000, Old Codger

Nettles are good for you and the environment
Nettles As with dandelions, most gardeners aren’t too pleased to find nettles in their flowerbeds. However, as well as being handy for cooking and making tea, nettles have been shown to relieve the pain of arthritis. In a study carried out at the University of Plymouth, stinging nettle leaves were applied to the hands of 27 arthritis sufferers each day for a week. The results were compared to the effect of using the white deadnettle leaf, which doesn’t sting. The stinging nettles were found to significantly reduce pain. It’s thought that this is because of the serotonin and histamine they contain.
Also called "devil?s plaything" or "stinging nettle," this plant is best known for the extremely irritating substances injected by its hairs into the Skin upon contact. Nettle leaves, however, can be used nutritionally and medicinally for many beneficial purposes. It helps in digestion, kidney function, and blood circulation. Although used in Europe to stimulate the secretion of mother?s milk, this property has not been clinically proven.
The Health Benefits of Dandelion & Nettles in Horse Diet The Dandelion ~ Taraxacum officinalis This common weed will come into flower in Spring, bringing forth flowers from April to November. The dandelion is a storehouse of minerals especially iron, copper and potash. Copper being especially important as an activator of zinc in the body. Zinc being necessary for wound healing, fertility and white blood cell production. Dandelion also contains more vitamin A & C than most other vegetables and fruit. Traditionally in Spring, the young leaves have been used in salads to stimulate and cleanse the digestive system, the blood and the kidneys. The leaves have a proven reputation in relieving fluid retention whether due to heart oedema or an excess of sodium and therefore can help to relieve high blood pressure. The high iron content of both leaves and root helps to combat anaemia. The root is used as a liver remedy especially useful in relieving bilious disorders. Encourage the dandelion to flourish in your pastures; it is non-poisonous and entirely beneficial. A few leaves shredded into a mash feed can only improve your horse’s health. One of the ingredients used in the De-tox tonic remedy available from the Equine Herbalist The Stinging Nettle ~ Urtica dioica A plant so common that it is found on nearly every piece of waste ground. Despite their sting (easily relieved with the juice of a dock leaf crushed in the hand, or a drop or two of pure Lavender essential oil) they are one of our most valuable mineral herbs. Nettles accumulate large quantities of nitrogen, calcium, silica, iron, phosphates and vitamins B, C & K. Nettles are primarily diuretic and blood cleansing eliminating uric acid from the body. This explains their reputation in reducing painful inflammation as seen in oseto-arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in humans. The presence of vitamin K gives nettles anti-haemorrhagic qualities. Nettle root contains sitosterols useful in controlling benign prostrate hyperplasia. Nettles compared weight for weight with spinach are far richer in iron. The cottager’s ‘nettle soup’ being an excellent source of minerals and vitamins, in early Spring. An excellent alternative to liver as a source of iron for vegetarians and toxin conscious meat eaters. The sting in the leaves is due to histamine that can be easily destroyed with drying. Nettles can be cut, spread out on a baking tray and dried in the oven at 70 0 C for an hour or so. Keep the dried nettles in an airtight tin and add to your horse’s mash feed. Good for us and wildlife.
even more at
http://www.nettles.org.uk/nettles/today.asp
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On Tue, 06 Feb 2007 19:33:39 +0000, "Pete ‹(•¿•)›"

That is a great site Pete, hope you dont mind if I spread the word?
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Nettles and Wildlife http://www.nettles.org.uk/nettles/wildlife.asp
The stinging nettle is one of the most important native plants for wildlife in the UK.
The nettle supports over 40 species of insect including some of our most colourful butterflies.
This may seem strange given the stinging power of the nettle but it is the presence of the stings that has allowed the relationship with numerous insect species to develop. The stinging hairs of the nettle developed as a defence against grazing animals. So effective are they that few grazers , with the exception of goats and hungry sheep, will touch nettles when the stings are active. This makes the ideal habitat for insects as there is little danger of the adult insects or larvae ending up in the stomach of a cow! Insects can also move between the spines without activating the sting.
The most notable nettle patch inhabitants are the small tortoiseshell and peacock butterfly larvae which feed in large groups hidden in silken tents at the top of the nettle stems.
Many nettle patches hold overwintering aphids which swarm around the fresh spring growth and provide an early food source for ladybirds. These same aphids are eaten in large numbers by blue tits and other woodland birds agile enough to dart around the stems.
In late summer the huge quantity of seed produced provide a food source for many of our seed eating birds.
It can be seen that the nettle plays a very important role for both rural and urban wildlife - indeed some of the insect species such as the nettle weevil live only in the nettle patch. Hopefully we can start to look at the nettle patch in a different light and pause a while to admire its effective survival strategy.
Butterflies of the nettle patch Take a look at some the nymphalid butterflies that depend on nettles. Moths of the nettle patch Not forgetting their cousins the moths!
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