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Grazing is an ideal form of continued site maintenance. It is even desirable to resume grazing in an area that was a pasture in the past. For grazing to be practical, the archaeological structures need to be deep enough within the ground or sturdy enough not to be disturbed by the hooves of the animals. A sufficient supply of suitable forage and a natural source of water within the site are also required. From a culture historical point of view, the most natural choice of grazing animals are the native breeds. Practically any domestic animals are suitable, apart from the pig that disturbs the ground surface.
Sheep grazing at Harola, Eura. Photo: Juha Mäntylä
The Choice of Grazers
The choice of grazers depends on their size and on the type of pasture available at the archaeological site. The number of animals is determined by their nutritional requirements, the size and productivity of the pasture, and the objective of the grazing. Cattle can be used in all kinds of pastures, since they are not selective grazers. However, their large size causes problems: they may damage the archaeological structures and be dangerous to visitors not used to being around animals. Sheep are the most popular grazers on archaeological sites. They are small, friendly, and demand little tending, but they are more selective as to their forage. Horses are also suitable, although their use is limited by their large size and requirements for resource-intensive care. Horses show their greatest potential when grazed together with sheep, since they nibble the grass short and do not scorn even coarse hay.
A pasture requires a number of structures, such as fences and feeding and other shelters. If the area has served as a pasture before, it may be possible to model the structures after the remains of the earlier ones. A rail fence goes well with traditional landscapes, but is expensive to build because it requires a lot of wood. It also requires specialist techniques to build. An electric fence is the simplest solution. It is easy to construct and move from place to place as needed. It is also practically invisible and can be used to complement other fence types. A wire-netting fence is practical especially with sheep. It is inexpensive, quick to build, and neutral as to the landscape. A netting fence is also easy to move, for example as the grazing cycle requires.
The pasture fence does not necessarily require a gate. It can be replaced by making a section of the fence easy to dismantle. If a gate is considered necessary, its type will depend on the fence structure: it needs to be sturdy, safe, lockable, and functional. Cattle, for example, will require a corral at the gate. The most practical way to secure visitor access is by flights of steps. This eliminates the risk of leaving the gate open by accident or damaging the fence. The steps should have a grille structure that keeps the animals from using them.
The animals also need shelter from the rain and heat. If no natural shelter exists in the pasture, shelters with walls need to be built. They can also incorporate feeding or watering troughs.
If the land-owner does not use the maintained archaeological site as pasture, the land can be leased to a suitable tenant, or animals can be rented. Since the pasture will have to be monitored daily, it is sensible to look for the tenant or the animals in the neighbourhood. A written lease is necessary. This will safeguard the parties involved and is required by EU regulations concerning financial support.
The local population has to be informed about grazing at the archaeological site. The pasture must be supplied with a sign-post or with leaflets providing visitors with information about the grazing and the name and address of the person or persons responsible for the animals. Communication is important, since it reduces the risk of vandalism at the site.
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