Updated: Oct 6
September is a relatively quiet month on the farm. We’re all prepared for winter with the hay all harvested and a load of straw stored in the barn. The sheep and cattle have been enjoying the sunshine and with the grass still growing, hopefully they won’t need to start being fed hay until November. The hedges are full of berries, with the rowans in particular looking spectacular, so they should be plenty of food for the fieldfares, flocks of finches and other migrants as they come in. ‘Our ‘swallows’ have left but over the past week we’ve had flocks stopping off to feed as pass through on their way south.
The rhos pasture is also looking gorgeous, with the purple devil’s bit scabious in flower and the bog asphodel turning a lovely orange. In a few weeks’ time we will be collecting some of the devil’s bit scabious seed so that it can be propagated by the Shallowford Farm Trust just down the road, with the aim of growing 2000 or so, plug plants for planting on ours and other nearby farms, and so increase the amount of food for the caterpillars of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly.
Now the weather has turned cooler, we’ve been stocking up our freezers and so now once again have a full selection of beef and lamb for sale, and whilst stocks last, also sausages and bacon. You can order these from our website and either come and collect, or for larger orders I deliver locally, or further away dispatched by overnight courier.
One task we’ve had this month is complete our annual audits for our grass fed, animal welfare and regenerative farming accreditation. We are accredited with ‘A Greener World’ (www.agreenerworld.org.uk), an organisation set up to promote agricultural systems across the world that have a positive impact on the environment, society and animals, that has been operating in the UK since 2018. Although not that well known (yet), we choose to go with them, because their ethos, high standards and their focus on small independent farms rather than corporate agriculture.
The basic premise of their Animal Welfare Approved standards is that animals must be able to behave naturally and be in a state of physical and psychological well-being, and that the way animals are raised, the nutritional quality of the food they produce, and the impact of the farming system on the environment are all intrinsically linked. For an upland farm like us, it requires animals to have access to pasture year-round, apart from short periods of extreme weather or when the ewes are brought in for lambing, are not routinely medicated, and care is taken across their whole lifecycle from birth to death.
An optional extra to the Animal Welfare Accreditation we do, is ‘Certified Grass fed’. Many places claim their beef or lamb as being grass fed, or grass raised, but without an auditing process to regulate that it’s 100% grass and foraged diet, they may like most UK cattle and sheep even if thy reared outside most of the time, they will also be fed grain or soya based feed to make them grow faster. We don’t feed our animals concentrates, as it’s very difficult to verify where any soya (which is lots of animal feeds) is sourced from, and we don’t want the carbon and environmental impacts that are associated with the growing, processing and transporting of cereals. Instead, by maintaining a relatively low stocking density, we can feed our animals from forage grown on the farm, with our only imports being straw for bedding up the barns and mineral buckets. As well as the environmental benefits, 100% grass-based meat is considered healthier as it is leaner and also has a higher level of ‘good fats’ such as omega-3 fatty acids. So if you want to be sure your ‘grass fed meat’, is from an animal that hasn’t been fed grain or soya, look out for the AGW Grass fed logo or the Pasture for Life logo (we used to be certified with Pasture for Life, and changed as it was easier to get it all done by one organisation).
We are now also one of AGW’s pilot farms for their new Regenerative farming certification. Regenerative agriculture has become a bit of a buzz-word in recent years, but risks becoming a greenwash advertising label unless there are standards behind it. Whilst soil carbon is an important part of the AGW standards, they also require healthy, more biodiverse ecosystems, cleaner air and water, and better treatment for workers and animals. To apply for the certification, we had to produce a plan, setting out not only how we farm at the moment, but our vision for how we want to improve, with measurable goals. This plan is then reviewed by then panel of experts (this is the stage we’re at now) who will give us feedback. Producing the plan was time-consuming, but a useful opportunity to step back and think about the changes we want to make over the next few years and you can read about many of these on our previous blog - https://www.dartmoorfarm.com/post/what-do-you-think-of-our-future-plans-for-a-wilder-challacombe
Looking ahead to the rest of October, towards the end of the month, depending on the weather we’ll probably move the cows over to their winter quarters - the barns and the adjacent fields, where they can be fed. We’ve also excited to be hosting the National Park’s Ranger Ralph club’s 21st birthday celebrations with activities including bird box making, pewter casting, apple bird feeders, bug hunts and more.