Farming on Dartmoor differs from lowland agriculture, with virtually no crops being grown, other than as winter feed for livestock. Suitably hardy breeds of cattle and sheep are grazed on the Commons of Dartmoor.
While the cattle are out from April to November, sheep are “hefted” flocks and live out year round, as do the iconic Dartmoor Hill Ponies.
The semi-feral pony herds live out on the commons all year, being “drifted” (rounded up) and brought in early October. Following a health check the mares are turned back out onto the commons and the foals are sent to Chagford Pony sales.
The Dartmoor Hill Ponies are believed to have grazed the moors for over three thousand years, hoof prints having been found in a Bronze Age site that has been excavated, and have been recorded since medieval times. These ponies were the foundation stock for the Registered Dartmoor Pony.
Farming on Dartmoor, in common with other upland areas, has a number of associated crafts such as dry stone walling and hedge laying. In order that these skills are not allowed to die out a number of young people are enrolled each year in the “Moor Skills” Course run jointly by Dartmoor Commoners and Duchy College.
In March of every year “swaling” is carried out. This is the name given to controlled burning, used to burn off gorse, bracken and in some cases heather. This practice allows fast re-growth of grazing and prevents the encroachment of gorse and bracken.
Dartmoor ponies are the only livestock that enjoy new gorse shoots and the charcoal produced from the burning.
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