100% PASTURE FED
A diet of diverse pasture, tree fodder, natural minerals and fresh water with hardy native breeds is how I achieve high animal health and nutritious meat products that reflect and celebrate the terroire of our beautiful lands.
Different grasses, wildflowers, herbs and legumes provide different minerals and nutrients - so every day the livestock can choose to eat what they need at the time. Different plants have different root lengths, can access different minerals, and provide food for different wildlife - biodiversity is key!
Starting in 2018 with a thick sward of mostly grasses, with quite a lot of dockens, buttercups and some thistles, I am working hard at increasing diversity of species, encouraging the small patches of Cuckoo flower, Mouse Ear, Sneezewort and Dandelion, and introducing other species that are present in the local area and still persist in the rough grazing.
Slowly improving the diversity with seeds and homegrown plug plants
Changing grazing regime to allow longer rest periods for slower-growing herbs and flowers
Bale grazing in the winter to feed the soil and introduce more seed diversity.
Trees often have higher mineral content, and their long roots can draw nutrients from deeper under ground.
To ensure livestock have access to tree fodder, most grazing strips will be lined by hedges and have varying silvopasture layouts. They will also have access to the shelter belts during the winter and bad weather. But currently the trees are very small, so this will be a few years coming!
I will be experimenting with pollarding, for feeding tree fodder fresh when branches are out of reach, and for making tree hay for winter feeding - using hedge trimmings for tree hay too!
When ruminants are pasture-fed, there are health benefits for them, the people who consume their meat and milk, and the environment - both directly where they are raised, and in the context of the wider food system.
Sheep and cattle are built to thrive on a diverse diet of grasses, forbes and tree fodder. Their digestion is beautifully adapted to this. When fed grain, they can develop health problems like rumen acidosis, and grain has to be grown, harvested, processed and transported (usually using a lot of fossil fuels).
Keeping ruminants purely forage fed is also a way to turn inedible vegetation for humans into healthy protein and fat. The diversity also gives a complex flavour, reflecting the individual terroire of the land.
Pasture-fed meat and milk have a healthier fat profile and higher vitamin and mineral levels and CLA levels than grain-fed meat and milk. These benefits decline after just a few weeks of livestock being fed grain. Please visit the PFLA website and the nutritional research study for more information.
Diverse grasslands are an ecologically important (and often overlooked) habitat, and a way to slow water flow and lock carbon back into the ground. Grazing animals have evolved with grasslands: they benefit from the nutrition, and the grasslands benefit from being grazed, fertilised and trampled. As long as the grazing period isn't too long, and the rest period is sufficient, this results in a diverse, productive and healthy ecosystem.
This can also include trees, hedges, scrub and woodland pasture, giving yet more diversity and health benefits to both land and livestock. Open wooded pasture was once common in the UK - ranging from parkland to heath and scrub - all now largely lost. I will pollard some trees for tree hay and fresh fodder, as well as for firewood and timber for the farm.
why pasture fed?
For me, seeing ruminants on the pasture eating grasses just feels right. It makes sense for them and feels like a good way to manage the land. At the city farm where I worked, we had to buy in a LOT of feed. The more I learnt about natural cycles and grassland ecosystems, the more wrong this felt - and it was the biggest reason for my wanting to leave. Also, as part of our educational programme, I learnt and taught about factory farming, and I became more and more particular about my diet. I found it difficult to buy the meat I wanted to eat, so I decided to produce it myself!
Research, courses and field trips confirmed my initial feeling - then discovering the Pasture For Life Association, being privy to the founts of knowledge on their forum and visiting their farms, was a huge influence on forming my plans. The more time I spend out on the pasture, the more I realise the life it gives other creatures too - from the worms and dung beetles to the waders and the hares. And our climate grows grass REALLY well!