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The Changing Nature of Rosewood: We’ve changed, here’s why

By Rosewood Farm, Jun 6 2016 05:06PM

Although ‘Rosewood’ as a business and herd was born back in 1996, the purchase of the home farm was a watershed moment; that was when things really began in earnest. As we’ve rolled with the punches of the last fourteen years of farming however we have changed, almost beyond recognition. We thought we owed our customers an update and an explanation of what they’re seeing from us these days.

Some things remain the same - our focus is grass, for all the reasons we (constantly) outline in our blog posts etc. In the early days however, our grazing system was chosen purely for survival reasons rather than environmental ones. Although the environment has always been important to all three of us, the grazing system we chose made the fullest use of what little grass we had for the smallest cost on our first rung of the farming ladder - it just so happened that it was great for wildlife too.

Fertiliser really isn't worth it
Fertiliser really isn't worth it

When we first arrived at Rosewood in May 2002 the previous occupant had put fertiliser on the grass but the sale went through before it could be cut. We had the hay to cut, but were also left with the fertiliser bill. When I opened that, I reeled. £900!? Across the 325 bales produced that was £2.77/bale. With a bale worth about £10 and the cost of hiring machinery, labour, wrap, transportation and storage on top, that did not seem worth it.

Cutting a slightly longer story short, we stopped applying fertiliser there and then, ignored the dire warnings, and implemented Joel Salatin’s ‘Salad Bar Beef’ grazing system after I heard about it on the radio. By 2009 we were grazing the equivalent of 40 ‘normal sized’ cows for ten months of the year on the same ground, up to 60 sheep with no bought in feed for any of them and still managing to harvest 100 bales of hay on top. Weeds had gradually disappeared without any chemical or mechanical intervention and our pasture had grown long roots and built up a nice stock of organic matter to help it survive droughts and frosts. As you can hopefully see, this made our system very cheap and allowed us to survive at a small size.

A tough job for tough cows; keeping the meadows from turning into scrubland
A tough job for tough cows; keeping the meadows from turning into scrubland

Things have been slowly changing around us though. Much of the local land which was bought up in order to preserve it for nature was undergrazed and biodiversity was not improving as hoped - the few most rampant weeds were taking over and the whole lot was unproductive. This is a story repeated all over the country. Conventional farming did not offer the solution, as most farmers did not have the cattle or knowledge to exploit this kind of grazing while leaving the wildlife in tact. Our system could offer this, and soon Natural England found us. Within a very short amount of time our cattle and system have visibly improved ‘the Ings’ and boosted species numbers. The most wonderful thing about this for us though, is that it produces human food as a by-product - nothing need be sacrificed in order to preserve nature!

At the same time, other farmers around us with poorer land involved in various environmental schemes needed native breed livestock to graze it but for whatever reason did not want to run the stock themselves. Happily, we don’t need the subsidy payment to make it worth it for us to graze this land so we are able to allow the landowners to pocket their money, do the environmental stuff and we take only their unimproved grass in payment.

The produce of conservation; grassfed beef
The produce of conservation; grassfed beef

So we now have a situation where we actually have more grass than we can handle. In tandem with restricted access times as landowners remain wary of our system which enables us to graze ‘out of season’ without damaging the land, we are no longer able to have an ‘extended’ grazing season as we used to in ‘the survival days’. There is too big an area of land available to us at certain times of the year, and not enough at others. If we stock according to ‘out of season’ grazing area, we would not be able to effectively graze the conservation areas, so we must try to graze as much as possible of that, and house the cattle the rest of the time when the out of season grass inevitably runs out.

This is how and why our emphasis has evolved from purely producing grassfed beef and lamb as a business to primarily becoming nature reserve gardeners! It’s a funny old world and an outcome we did not predict. We’re still not up to full stocking density, as of course our remaining limiting factor is beef and lamb sales - that’s where you guys come in ;) Every hide, every kilo of meat or ball of wool sold lets us take on another patch of grassland that needs tending; so keep eating, and knitting, and lying around in luxurious bliss on your sheepskin! It’s a tough life eh, but someone’s got to do it.

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