David was influenced in his early years by his grandfather who was a forestry conservationist, his grandmother who gave him memberships to soil associations and his mentor Enid Carberry who grew herbs, utilised “weeds”, practised companion planting and planted leys of herbs in paddocks for herbage fodder.
From the age of 12, David noticed how his ponies would eat weeds when tethered on the nature strip and this interest has remained with him. As he truly says “When does a weed become a herb? When we find a use for it”.
Certainly many of us learnt about uses for plants which we see growing in our paddocks and gardens and thought were just nuisance weeds, but which are actually herbs with valuable uses.
A good example is dock which is considered by most to be a weed. Its value is that its long taproot brings minerals up to the topsoil, thereby helping to repair soils, and horses who need it will eat it as a liver tonic. The Dock family is numerous and widespread with the Yellow or Curled Dock (Rumex crispus) used medicinally as a blood cleanser in herbal medicine today.
This is the tall Dock which is common in Australia along with the much shorter, sparser variety. It can be very difficult to identify plants correctly but it is important to do so, it is made more difficult because of the many different common names. Wikipedia is useful as it often has many good images. Docks belong to the same family (Polygonaceae) as Rhubarbs and Sheep Sorrels.
David’s 120 acre farm suffered a lot in the last big drought despite having irrigation, but he was able to utilise many of his tree plantings on paddock boundaries for fodder and these are growing back well now. One of his favourite herbs is Wormwood which grows around some of the work areas, which he uses as a tonic and restorative. If a horse does not need a herb, especially an extremely bitter herb like Wormwood, they simply will not eat it. It also keeps flies away very effectively.
Apart from David’s considerable knowledge of soil, herbage, pastures and pasture plants, he is a horseman in the true sense of the word. Both his father and his grandfather were successful Thoroughbred trainers and David worked with them both from a young age, acquiring a wealth of knowledge, dedication and a work ethic that few people have these days.
When David acquired the land for the farm there were no trees and the soil had been supered for 20 years previously so the minerals were locked up. Gypsum and dolomite were used extensively in the first year which resulted in the capeweed disappearing in the first two years.
Notice how the Dock has sheltered the rye grass which is growing up through it
David started out with cattle losing a lot to bloat, milk fever and white scours, but once the soil improved, these problems disappeared. He then started breeding Thoroughbreds, and planted tree lines using Cottonwood, Ash, White Willow, Hawthorn and Tree Lucerne to name a few. He also planted herbage leys in the paddocks using Yarrow, Vetch, Chicory, Nettles and Lucerne. There is a rotation system in place with paddocks of varying sizes being eaten down often to what appears to be bare earth, but which actually contains a lot of seeds, which then come back when spelled astonishingly well.
It was fascinating to see the different reactions of David’s Holsteiner stallions in the stables to whom I offered some essential oils to inhale or lick as they chose. More on this important topic in the future.
Lunch was held on both days at the neighbouring Longleat Winery where we were treated to fresh local gourmet food and wine al fresco with gorgeous rustic views over the surrounding countryside.