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Follow us for updates of life, food & wildlife on the farm here in the Lower Derwent Valley, Yorkshire.

By Rosewood Farm, Aug 15 2017 11:45PM

I woke up this morning and stared at the computer screen. There on Twitter was an appeal by the Wildlife Trusts urging us to support the Perry Mead Wildflower Project. I thought about the wording - a phrase I’ve used many times myself over the years, and what it means.

Essentially it is a very dry statistic 97% is almost all of our wildflower meadows, gone. The 1930’s is recent enough to be shocking, but far enough away to be forgotten - you’d need to be at least 83 to remember those days with any certainty. Most people, indeed most farmers, alive today do not have much contact with wildflower meadows - most of our food production seeks to eliminate unwanted ‘weeds’ aka wildflowers, as they are of little [financial] value to the crop.

To myself, however, this figure is shocking, I acutely feel the need to save these meadows for future generations. I sat back and considered why this might be - my immediate thought was that my mind is both logical and scientific. The fact that this blog hasn’t won the prize for the most boring piece of text on the internet is down to my proofreader and biggest critic Nat. She may have an equally logical mind but it is complimented by being visual and linguistic, which takes the dull edge off my writing. So I reconsidered the statement though her eyes and realised that it had nothing to do with the language but my own experience.

Having grown up in the Yorkshire Ings, and subsequent return after brief spells away, I’ve now come to realise that we’ve retained something very special here - our wildlife. We tend to think of ‘wildlife’ as animals, the big game of the African plains or Amazon rainforest, forgetting that it is, or was, all around us. Wild flowers may seem pretty tame next to large carnivores but they are no less important to our overall experience of the countryside and if you no longer see them it is easy to forget that they were ever there. When you visit the Ings you are not only seeing wildflowers, birds and animals, you are stepping back in time to immerse yourself in the sights & sounds that our great grandparents took for granted.

Ragged Robin was once a much more common sight in the meadows of England
Ragged Robin was once a much more common sight in the meadows of England

Later today I sat down again to read an article shared by one of our partners in the Yorkshire Ings, Natural England. The question they were asking was is it ‘time to change how we talk about it to show the love?’ The author of the article was environmental Marmite himself George Monbiot - he doesn’t always get it right, but today was different. The article, Forget ‘the environment’: we need new words to convey life’s wonders is all about the effect of linguistics on our natural world. I couldn’t help but feel that Mr Monbiot has identified a problem that we all need to overcome.

On this note, I was using twitter again the other day to discuss the #EnvironmentalSucess hashtag that has been highlighting the value of British farming to the environment. In response to a tweet about the value of wildflower arable margins I mentioned how nice it would be to see ‘whole fields full of flowers again’. I had meant that I would like to see more wildflowers allowed to flourish within the crop but the farmer mistook my intention as replacing the crop with wildflowers. Again, we had fallen victim to linguistics - I was envisaging making arable crops as biodiverse as our grasslands while he was thinking I wanted to replace his crop with ‘weeds’.

This is a perfect example of what Natural England were referring to when they said;

While Mr Monbiot may not agree with a financial value being placed upon the natural world I can see the need for it.. As recent reports show, the public already vastly overestimate farming incomes (oddly I couldn’t find reference to this in The Guardian newspaper) so there is little wonder that there is an expectation for farmers to deliver more.

Wildlife is an asset to any community and it’s important that those encouraging it to thrive are valued so that they might continue to do so. Many businesses benefit from a community that is rich in wildlife with visitors spending their hard earned cash to experience nature first hand. Property values will reflect their location and local jobs may be created on the back of nature, despite no direct investment in its upkeep.

I can’t help thinking that we waste too much energy disagreeing about language. In a world where costs are high and returns low we, as conservationists and farmers, must have a three-way conversation with the general public so that we may shape our language to better understand one another.

Meanwhile at Rosewood we still struggle to define ourselves - on Facebook we are categorised as an Environmental conservation organisation while Google has us down as a Butchers and Bing has us as a Farmshop. None of the three categories are incorrect, but neither do they give the right impression of who we are or what we do. Farmers is the most accurate term, but at the same time it is the least informative. How do you describe Rosewood to your friends?

By Rosewood Farm, Jul 16 2017 05:49PM

Why aren’t there more farms like Rosewood? is a question I often hear, which does have a very short and simple answer, but more of that later. Unless you’ve been following us for sometime, you are unlikely to know what it is that makes us different, and for that we need to go back in time to talk about how Rosewood Farm came to be.

We grew up as part of a large extended farming-family, in the 1970’s and 80’s, so farming was always in the blood. Both families were mixed arable and dairy farms, very traditional with about 50-60 cows each, grazing on summer pastures and rearing the calves for beef. In farming the ‘farm’ was an entity in itself, a being around which life revolved. Both holidays and weddings were timed around hay making or harvest, and the daily routine was heavily influenced by milking twice a day, every single day.

The family dairy herd grazing in the Ings Photo credit: K Laverack
The family dairy herd grazing in the Ings Photo credit: K Laverack

The 1990’s were a time of great change for agriculture, the cracks were beginning to appear in the post-war drive for intensification. Europe’s farms were more productive than ever before, boosted by subsidies from the EU that encouraged us to produce more food but which, ironically, had made food cheaper and less able to support the people who produce it. This effectively spelled the end of farming for our family, the writing was on the wall, the family business was approaching the end of the line.

Paul and myself had both wanted to carry on the family dairy farm, working before & after school, and throughout the holidays to gain experience. The inevitability of it not being possible, however, was always there, so we both had to accept that it wasn’t going to happen. We set out to continue a path in farming, and went to agricultural college alongside working on farms to gain a wide variety of experience in the world of farming. This coincided with the establishment of the pedigree Dexter cattle herd, which began what we know as Rosewood today.

Despite being a mixed farmer at heart, during and after college Paul found himself working on a conventional arable farm, albeit it one that enabled him to follow his passion for tinkering with old machinery. Meanwhile I was studying for a diploma in agriculture and working on a variety of farms from intensive pig and arable farms in East Yorkshire to an upland sheep farm in Wales. Always taking an interest in animals and biology, my own passion became clear when I began my second-year assignment on forage crops. The result was a document that was five times longer than any other assignment I had written and fully illustrated, in colour!

Cultivating land in prairie-like fields used to be my 'day job'
Cultivating land in prairie-like fields used to be my 'day job'

Agriculture is an important sector in the UK, but it is dwarfed by the ancillary industries that provide farming with a plethora of products and services from tractors to software, and it is these which eventually employ the majority of agricultural students today. With an interest in livestock and biology, I decided to follow the diploma with a course in animal science, still unsure where I would end up.

During my final year at college I was somewhat rail roaded into studying the effects of comparing homegrown and milled feed with commercially formulated rations in lamb production, both absolutely grain fed, far removed from my passion. I had wanted to study more interesting subjects that were closer to my heart, such as the fascinating genetics of my own breed, the Dexter, or the behaviour of the ‘wild’ cattle of Chillingham. Unfortunately for me these subjects were too far removed from anything that happens as part of ‘commercial’ modern agriculture and my tutors were not keen.

The public perception of lamb production is one of lambs skipping around in fields, but I found myself weighing lambs each week to compare the two rations. These lambs never left the shed they were born in during January until the end of their lives three or four months later, providing for the comparatively high prices of the ‘new season’ spring lamb market. It didn’t sit right with me, compared to my own grassfed cattle at home which were grazed on pastures for two seasons (part of the fallout from the BSE-crisis was that cattle at the time were only allowed to be eaten if were they slaughtered at 30 months of age or younger) and never received a sniff of grain.

To my surprise, the home grown ration out performed the purchased feed, with the lambs fed on grains grown and milled on the farm. It got me thinking about how farmers are ‘fed’ the formulated rations by outsiders who have a product to sell, rather than making use of the farmers own knowledge and experience (and feed!).

Farmers, being on the frontline of the countryside, are often the first to be criticised for changes that lead to problems with animal welfare or wildlife. The best way I can describe ‘agriculture’ is like a combine harvester - farmers are like the header, seen to be gathering in the crop at the front. Internally there is lots going on which very few people see, the engine [supermarkets] is in the middle, pushing farmers along, controlling the rate and speed of all the other processes, including how much is wasted. Out of the back, out comes the processed product, looking quite different from what went in. It is that way because not everyone *needs* to know how a combine works in order to benefit from the food it produces.

The food industry; like a giant combine with mysterious internal machanisms
The food industry; like a giant combine with mysterious internal machanisms

By the early 2000’s there seemed to be a growing public interest in the process of food production. The internet was just beginning to become popular and we decided that a website was the perfect way for the consumer to learn more about exactly where their food comes from. It provided a window into farming, giving unprecedented access between the farm and the consumer. I started to use the internet to talk to others, both farmers and consumers, about how and why food was produced in the way it was.

Paul and I had both independently come to the same conclusion that we simply didn’t want to continue work with the chemicals that conventional agriculture had come to rely upon. They were unpleasant to apply and we didn’t think they were having a positive effect on the land or wildlife. Our main contact with these chemicals was in arable farming, but they are also involved in more intensive grazed livestock systems too. We decided that our own farm would be different and we set out to offer the consumer a genuine choice.

We found that farming without chemicals was tough - not because things didn’t grow without them but because the support network for farmers was so heavily-ingrained in the chemical culture. Most solutions include a bottle on the shelf that can be applied for best results and we got more than a few funny looks when we said that we don’t use chemicals. “Oh, so you’re organic?” “Well, no, not organic, we just don’t use chemicals”. We can see why other farmers take the advice - it’s hard going being a rebel.

This became easier when I met a kindred spirit in Natalie in 2009 and together we have been able to continue experimenting and improving, working with other farmers and conservationists to really push forward and build upon our success.

It was equally hard going with our choice of cattle too - Dexters. They suit our system because they are tough, sometimes stubborn, and massively independent (just like us, you might say). Few farmers see Dexters as a commercial breed though, and rightly so because the system is not set up to make best use of small, grassfed cattle. As such we’ve had to buck the trend of selling livestock at market and go direct to you, the customer, instead.

Dexters are much smaller than most cattle - not what the supermarkets want
Dexters are much smaller than most cattle - not what the supermarkets want

Instead of being the header of the combine, harvesting the crop and passing it on to the next stage, Rosewood has had to take on all the roles within the machine. We produce, process, package, sell and distribute our product. This has given us almost total control over how we do things and as a result we have been able to ensure that our farming methods produce good food that has a positive effect upon the wonderful wildlife we have here in the Yorkshire Ings.

The conventional markets take the animal and divide it into individual components with steaks supplying pubs & restaurants, joints made into ‘steak’ pies, mince into burgers and offal sent all the way to China. The quantities of each required by the restaurants or fast food places mean that they are selling meat from many many different animals.

We need to sell every bit of the animal, not just the steaks!
We need to sell every bit of the animal, not just the steaks!

At our scale if we supply a restaurant with 4 sirloins a week that not only means that our customers miss out on steaks (already one of our most popular cuts!) but we also have two animals-worth of joints, mince & dice that all needs to find a suitable home. We can’t kill an animal for the steaks alone and China isn’t interested in a single liver each week either. The restaurant too can change their menu at a moments notice - not something we can quickly respond to for an animal that is many years in the making.

So, back to our initial question - why aren’t there many more farms like Rosewood? The answer, as I said before, is simple; the one thing that remains outside of our control is what you, the consumer, chooses to buy & eat each day. Our passion may be the grasslands and the vast array of wildlife that they support but passion alone can only achieve so much and as much as we’d like to, it’s not possible for us to work for free. Rosewood Farm may now be full of wildlife but if the bank account is empty it’s not a model that many can afford to copy.

By Rosewood Farm, Jun 4 2017 09:54PM

You may remember my blog back in January, detailing my concerns about David Attenborough’s excellent series, Planet Earth II. I also mentioned how we didn’t catch the whole series when aired and I particularly wanted another chance to see my favourite habitat and episode from the whole series; Grasslands. The opportunity came when I selflessly invested in the DVD along with a subscription to BBC Wildlife magazine for my wife’s Christmas present.

Despite working alongside it day in, day out, I much prefer reading all about the wildlife I see right here on my doorstep. The Lower Derwent Valley is home to such a rich diversity of mammal, bird, and insect life as a result of being managed continuously in a very traditional way for more than 1000 years. All of these animals depend upon the flood meadows, pastures and woodlands that make up the most complete example of a semi-natural floodplain ecosystem left in the UK, and I feel that it continues to be a much under-appreciated landscape.

The Yorkshire Ings have some of the finest examples of wildflower meadows
The Yorkshire Ings have some of the finest examples of wildflower meadows

The June edition of Wildlife magazine didn’t disappoint me, with an article by BBC Springwatch presenter Chris Packham dedicated to wildflower meadows. As Chris says, up to 98% of our natural grasslands have already gone in the space of just 50 years. I highlighted this in my last blog, about how these High Nature Value grasslands are very special. What makes Rosewood Farm extra special is that 95% of the 450 acres we farm are traditional, species-rich meadows.

Meadows are currently missing their champion - both veganism & reduced meat consumption are on trend with many celebrities at the moment and this is bad news for our wildflower meadows and grazing livestock. As a result, with fewer animals on farms, meadows have lost their reason for being and are instead being turned over by the plough to grow the foods that people demand more of.

But why have other farmers given them up?

In tough economic times, farmers have to weigh up the value of the grass produced from these meadows against the cost of time and fuel turning them into hay and grazing them. In better times for farming, more intensive cropping elsewhere may have subsidised, to a degree, the work but now it’s much harder to justify continuing to do something that you know represents an added cost to your business.

A couple of things changed for farmers in the post war years that made mono-cropping easier and altered the fortunes of traditional meadows. The first was the availability of selective herbicides in 1945. You are probably familiar with the most notorious of herbicides - Monsanto’s RoundUp, which kills any plant it touches (unless the plant is genetically modified to withstand it). Instead selective herbicides work by allowing certain plants to be killed whilst leaving the crop unharmed. By eliminating competition from other plants, the crop thrives and any fertilisers applied feed only the crop and not the ‘weeds’.

The plastic perforated drainage pipe killed many a meadow
The plastic perforated drainage pipe killed many a meadow

The second change was the invention of the perforated plastic drainage pipe in the late 1950’s. This made drainage of farmland far cheaper and easier than ever before and as a result land that was once only good for damp-tolerant perennial plants such as grasses can now grow a whole variety of annual cultivated crops.

Continuing with the article, my hopes were built up when I read the line ‘the only way we can hope to preserve these species-rich places is…’. However, hope turned to dismay at an opportunity lost as he continued ‘ visiting and celebrating them’. I’m all for spreading the word about how important grasslands are to wildlife and to us all, but the only way, seriously? I think not. The best way we can preserve meadows in the long term is to maintain their value and continue the traditional use that created them in the first place - with grazing animals.

Breaking with my habit of only reading about our local wildlife, I moved next to another article in the same magazine titled ‘Of Bison & Burgers’, which was all about how the demise of the both the wild bison of North America and the Great Plains on which they grazed. This resonated with me as it sounded very much like the loss of traditional grasslands from the previous article. However, the author of this piece proposed a very different solution for the preservation of wild bison - eating them!

The Ings are Yorkshire’s Great Plains
The Ings are Yorkshire’s Great Plains

I didn’t realise until the very end that I had been reading an article by Philip Lymbery of Compassion in World Farming, but I felt that he had grasped the crux of the problem far better than Chris Packham had. If we are to preserve a landscape, and the wildlife within it, influenced by man for millennia, it is wishful thinking to expect a totally hands-off approach to achieve the same results. This is what they have found in America’s Yellowstone National Park, one of the few remaining places you can still find wild bison, which culls the bison to avoid them becoming over populated and suffering due to lack of grazing.

Philip also highlighted another crucial issue - the fact that whenever a solution like eating wild bison becomes popular, a whole host of cheaper pseudo-versions spring up to take advantage of the ethical reputation of the name without going to the bother of supplying the genuine article. This has happened too in the UK, when ‘grassfed’ beef became the latest ethical cuisine. The problem for the consumer is that 100% grassfed can mean anything from our 1000-year old hay meadows to the latest varieties of mono-cultured ryegrasses sprayed with liquid nitrogen fertiliser and various herbicides to ensure that ‘weeds’ (or wildflowers, as we know them) don’t take hold.

Most marketeers of grassfed meat will wax lyrical about the value of traditional wildflower meadows, but how many actually feed their cattle on them?

Rosewood is all about supplying the genuine article. We have built everything around preserving our local Yorkshire landscape of wildflower meadows by turning back the clock on cattle farming. This starts with breeding cattle of the right size that can traverse the damp ground damaging neither the soils nor the plants. Careful management also ensures that our pastures provide the ideal habitat for insect and birdlife that once existed in abundance, before the advent of pesticides. Our cattle feed only on grasses & wildflowers grown without any artificial fertilisers or pesticides, including our own hay made right here on the farm.

You can celebrate our wildflower meadows and help to keep them alive. Throw a party or go for a picnic but don’t forget that the food on your plate has the biggest impact upon the landscape around you. We’ll happily keep preserving the meadows here at Rosewood for as long as you keep buying the beef.

By Rosewood Farm, May 15 2017 10:43PM

The week started on an enormous nature-high for us here at Rosewood. The biggest breakthrough yet in our entire time here; an unexpected vindication that we were correct in our hunch that ditching the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, which in theory paid us to do better things for nature, was the right decision.

Elsewhere, things aren’t going so well as two pieces of news show. The first story made The Times when People Need Nature founder Miles King flagged up the destruction of a piece of precious chalk downland grass - the stuff that’s famous for its rare and delicate butterflies and flowers. It was sprayed and reseeded with a far less diverse grass mixture that will feed livestock better, but can’t ever hope to play host to said butterflies.

The news has reached the national press!
The news has reached the national press!

This isn’t unusual of course, as the second story showed - the much less widely reported output from the Organic Research Centre which spoke of the abandonment by farmers of High Nature Value (HNV) grasslands [pdf] over the next five years. I almost spat my tea out when I read that, as I have been witnessing and talking about this exodus for the last five years! We’ve already lost 97% of our unimproved grasslands but it’s just not as newsworthy to neglect them as to spray and grub them up, so few notice the loss.

High Nature Value grasslands are pretty self explanatory, they provide a lot of nature bang for your buck….the trouble is, they don’t provide much buck for your bang! They’ve been around for a few thousand years though, what’s changed? My answer would be that there’s a piece of the puzzle missing - you guys! In the past, these grasslands fed us, they produced our beef, cheese, woollens and mutton, making a good stab at providing a good portion of our diet and clothing. They were important to all of us.

Moving away from these old fashioned products made a lot of money for importers, oil companies and so forth, but the loss of the old grasslands was noticed, you can rest assured. The government and conservation bodies have tried to plug the gap left by consumers by subsidising these grasslands, giving farmers money to keep them going - so long as we stuck to the rules, we could have some money. I think after about 20yrs of that though we’re finally realising it hasn’t worked. We can come up with complex reasoning about it but basically, we’ve run out of money. The taxpayer can’t afford to buy food AND keep throwing money at keeping all these habitats going, not with the NHS buckling under pressure and economies slowing down and so on aswell.

So why not put them back together? Food and conservation? Our grasslands are lost without you!

In 2013, we didn’t renew our Countryside Stewardship Scheme when it ended, and we didn’t replace it with any other subsidy. Our home land at Rosewood is not under any protection and is now not subsidised either, we’re totally reliant on you. Under the scheme, we had to stick to a hard and fast rule of not grazing before a certain date in the year. We had been chafing against this for a few years but still, we were hesitant to graze any earlier even after it ended - we’re supposed to be nature farmers and it felt naughty, even though we know our grazing system is gentle on the land. This year, we finally plucked up the courage and grazed the land concerned unprecedentedly early, and due to the size of our herd, we were able to graze it quickly, 100 Dexter cows getting 20 acres trimmed, fertilised by dung and moistened by pee in a matter of days.

1% of the UK population of Whimbrels on a single field
1% of the UK population of Whimbrels on a single field

And what happened? That nature high I was talking about. The whimbrels came. Whimbrels are a red list species, they’re like a smaller version of the curlew and pass through on their way to Iceland from Africa every year. We know they visit the nature reserve we graze and that they are extremely fussy about where they eat and frankly, it wasn’t even on our radar that they would come to us - we have never even laid eyes on one on the reserve - so we were bowled over to spot 31, a full 1% of the passage population, poking about among the cowpats on our land.

Or should that be your land? Because let’s face it, one day, no matter how rich we might be, our grip on the land will loosen and we’ll be gone forever. The land will remain, and if it keeps its value to the public the incentive will be there for some other human to come along and keep doing what we did, and the whimbrels can keep coming. When a farmer sprays off some HNV grassland, he’s not acting alone.

By Rosewood Farm, Apr 1 2017 11:40PM

It's not so long ago that I blogged about Sainsbury’s and how if they really want people to eat less meat, they should stop selling it. Well, this week I decided to compare our prices with Tesco, as we’ve always strived to keep in line with the cost of the supermarket mid-range level. However, I stumbled in the low-end section and was utterly shocked by what I saw!

Rosewood Price - 100% traceable
Rosewood Price - 100% traceable

Here at Rosewood our prices are maintained at a level that is fair - we don’t want to charge too much and exclude people on a low income from eating good food. Nor do we want to charge too little so that we have to cut corners and let down our animals or destroy the environment in the process. Our Grassfed Dexter beef mince costs £9.20 per kg, and for that price we make a lot of promises. Our prices also include the cost of delivery so they are bound to be a little more but I don’t just want to compare Tesco with Rosewood, as when it comes to tasty beef, there is no comparison.

You will likely have heard all about Tesco and the controversy over their fake farms scandal, branding generic produce as if it came from a single, identifiable source has increased their profits. Well, they got away with it and are still selling products such as Boswell Farms “beef” mince (pictured below). The price looks amazing at just £3.38 per kg, and if you know anything about cattle pricing it’s even more unbelievable.

'Boswell Farms' - produced somewhere, by someone
'Boswell Farms' - produced somewhere, by someone

In days gone by supermarkets, wholesalers and butchers all had to compete for the best animals available at live auction markets. The cattle taken to market could be sold on the day or brought home if they didn’t make enough money, then returned the following week. Numerous factors changed this, a big one being ‘biosecurity’ - there were concerns over disease being spread between animals from different farms when they met at market, with unsold animals returning to the farm.

The supermarkets seized upon this and ‘sold’ it as an advantage to the farmer if his/her cattle could only move onto to an abattoir and avoid the risk of bringing back disease. Of course it also meant that the farmer has lost market discretion - you must accept the price, whatever it may be, and therefore the decision to sell must be made based upon the market prices from the previous week, which made selling even more of a gamble.

To take the gamble out of selling the supermarkets offered an olive branch - sell direct to them, delivering the animals to the supermarkets own abattoirs and you will receive a pre-determined price, providing the animals were of the right ‘specification’ (see below). The trouble was that the price offered was based upon the ‘market price’ and with direct contracts supermarkets no longer had to bid at the auctions. With fewer buyers available at the market, the price reduced further as at the same time supermarkets were outcompeting traditional butchers who couldn’t offer the cling-wrapped all-under-one-roof convenient shopping experience that shoppers now demanded.

Pricing for cattle that were no longer bought and sold while still alive had to be by the ‘deadweight’. That is the price for the carcass only, minus the head, feet, skin and insides, etc. which represents 45 - 50% of the live bodyweight. The carcass specification is determined by its on its conformation (shape) and fatness, with higher prices paid for animals that better match the buyer's demands. The deadweight system eliminates risk for the buyers as they are no longer have to pay for the bits they don’t want, although the price is usually higher than the ‘liveweight’ price to compensate.

Deadweight Cattle Price - something doesn't add up
Deadweight Cattle Price - something doesn't add up

As you can see from the current average cattle pricing, taken from Farmers Weekly today (02/04/2017) the highest price paid (the one for carcasses that will yield the most saleable weight for the supermarket) is 324p per kg, or in other words just 14p less than ‘Boswell Farms’ beef mince. That’s not to say that Tesco has made 14p per kg, as they will have to pay to run the abattoir, package and transport the product. Also, a carcass still contains a lot of extra weight in the form of bone and excess fat, which can represent a third of the deadweight giving an actual cost of 486p per kg of saleable meat.

At that price what Tesco, or ‘Boswell Farms’, are selling must be, essentially, a waste product of meat processing. The online information states that the animal was slaughtered in United Kingdom, Ireland (one of the two, I guess) and by investigating the UK code (5416) it turns out that the Hilton Food Group plc in Cambridgeshire was responsible for mincing it. We have no idea where exactly the animal was born or raised, where it was slaughtered or how far it travelled. All we do know is that the meat has travelled at least 530 miles before it reaches the York Tesco store. Even if you live in Penzance and order from Rosewood you still save at least 342 food miles!

Pricing is a little more complicated, as some cuts are more expensive than others, but mince is also the cut that requires the most work to produce, de-boning, cutting and mincing. It is the most convenient way to cook and eat grassfed beef though, and remains one of our most popular choicess. The advantage of eating beef from Rosewood Farm is that you know that it was grown in the Lower Derwent Valley in Yorkshire. If you check out the slaughter/cutting code on every pack we sell, you can also trace it back to the abattoir, which you will find is also located in the LDV. We include the individual animal ID code too, so you can get in touch with us for the full life history of the animal, including which fields it grazed in, for total peace of mind.

By Rosewood Farm, Mar 19 2017 04:14PM

The release of the book Dead Zone, Where the Wild Things Were by Philip Lymbery, of Compassion in World Farming, this week reminds us that what we eat, three times every day, has a direct impact upon the variety of wild plants and animals that survive beside us in our countryside. Here at Rosewood Farm we are mindful to ensure that how we farm not only eliminates harm to other species around the world, but actively restores and enhances the biodiversity of our local landscape. Like all great culinary delights, this doesn't happen by accident, and is the result of carefully following and refining the recipe. Here's how it's done;

Biodiversity is a dish best served warm, or cold, depending upon where in the world (and the season) that it is being prepared, but most important of all it must never be reheated! The best biodiversity is a deeply satisfying, healthy and sustaining meal.

You will notice that some recipes call for you to omit key elements in order to make the nature even better, but anyone who knows the texture of a true, authentic biodiversity will recognise that it is all about the balance of many different flavours. Crustless alternatives are possible to make, but not recommended as they tend to be weak & lacking in structure, more prone to collapse as you bring them to the table.

For the pasture base;

For the filling;

Serve with carefully-selected, seasonal fresh vegetables, but go easy on them to leave plenty of room for more biodiversity. Many types of biodiversity made in the UK can be frozen and last all year but don’t rely too much on storage, as the results will degrade over time. If you get the correct balance there is no need to repeat the steps above, just keep on enjoying the results.

Whilst many hosts may push the boat out for special occasions and order in some biodiversity to impress their guests, it is important to maintain demand year-round to ensure a steady, continuous supply. There are lots of different garnishes and flavourings to ensure that it never becomes dull!

By Rosewood Farm, Feb 12 2017 04:54PM

Storytime from the farm this Sunday as Natalie relates the ongoing Saga of Seavy Carr:

When we released 80 cows onto 80 acres of overgrown nothing, I remember thinking it was maybe a good idea to ask the local hunt if they could help us round them back up again! Dexters are extremely lively cattle and love to give us a nice bit of exercise whenever they can. Such a large area, full of bogs, definitely gives them the upper hand! Unfortunately, I did nothing about that idea and my worst fears came true - three humans were all we had to bring them back in. Rob and Paul were good cross country runners at school. I was always last. Those two would make good hunt horses, if they were horses, but I'd be a plough horse...

A bit of water is no problem for Dexter cattle
A bit of water is no problem for Dexter cattle

Things could not be put off any longer though, for a couple of reasons. The first was our TB test. Even though we are in one of the lowest risk areas, we still have to be tested every four years, no argument. The second was that there had been a mix up and a cow had ended up having a calf out there. Luckily, being a tough-ass Dexter, mother and baby were absolutely fine but we were naturally worried about her having been on such a poor diet - only our non childbearing animals were supposed to be out there!

Unfortunately, we got very delayed getting everything organised and it was all shunted to the day before the TB test meaning we could afford absolutely no failures in the rounding up process. To make things that bit harder, the morning brought thick fog meaning we couldn't actually see any cows. All this meant the round up didn't begin until near 4pm, at which time I had to leave to take our daughter to her dance lesson (she loves her dancing so skipping it isn't an option!).

This was *really* tricky, because the piece of ground is crisscrossed with ditches which are all brimming at this time of year. Cows can simply barrel through them, but humans can't unless they want to soak their wellies. Our plan had hinged on sending Rob to the far end, using Paul as 'bait' calling to the cows. The lads and their cows have co-evolved together for over 20 years and just a call from one of them is enough to bring them running for the promise of fresh grass - they don't listen to me! When we move the sheep the roles are reversed, they will happily run to me and the lads bring up the rear instead. So I was supposed to take over the pushing from behind when the cows had forded the main dyke, leaving Rob on dry land at the far end. In the event, 'good luck out there' was all I could say and I had to leave them to it!

Grazing has created some open habitat; ideal nesting sites for wading birds
Grazing has created some open habitat; ideal nesting sites for wading birds

I did however pick up a bucket of feed when I collected our daughter and hopped out to drop it off at the site on our way to her lesson. Rosewood bred cows don't know what feed is, they spend their lives birth to death only eating forage; we do have some bought in cows though, and they certainly remember what it is to be fed! I thought the feed may help.

I got an enormous stroke of luck when I dropped the bucket off. Rob and Paul were nowhere to be seen, pushing the stragglers out of the far corner, but the frontrunners of the herd had already reached the corral. There wasn't much I could do to help, but I thought of a plan that may help after I'd left - I rattled the bucket and the nearest cow, a big red galleon of a bought in cow, immediately and joyfully ran to the bucket and stuck her head in. I gave her a mouthful, then carried the bucket into the corral, climbed out and placed the bucket on the other side of the fence to the greedy cow. Now she knew the feed was there, she was bound to go in confidently when the rest of the herd had been collected, and would lead them in!

I didn't get to see the moment of glory, but a text from Rob later confirmed that the plan had worked brillantly and my hastily arranged sleepover for our daughter at Grandma's while we spent the night chasing cows through dykes in the dark wasn't necessary after all. Paul had remarked though that that was probably the limit of our luck for the forseeable. He was right, because the rain had started and once the first load of cows was in the box, our little old tractor simply slithered in place and couldn't drag the load out.

Homeward bound; the cows are used to their bi-annual tractor-taxi
Homeward bound; the cows are used to their bi-annual tractor-taxi

There was a little bit of luck left, though. While Rob and Paul scratched their heads in the dark and rain, a pair of headlights appeared on the little road going past. It was a pickup, and it slowed at the sight of the bogged tractor. It was a neighbouring arable farmer we work in conjunction with, helping him fulfill his environmental obligations. He was shaking his head at the insanity of what we were up to, but did remark on how well our cows looked on such notoriously poor ground and offered to send a lad round with one of his much bigger tractors to tow us out. If he hadn't, we'd probably still be out there now!

At 5.30am I was awake, being asked for a drink by a four year old. At first I assumed Rob was beside me but on second glance the bed was empty. I winced - this meant there must have been a problem. At about 7 he turned up and told me about the numerous punctures they had suffered during the many trips to ferry 80 cows back to the farm. Rob was falling asleep talking to me so I shunted him off to bed and went out to help Paul create a handling system ready for the vet at 9. Paul was clumsy and slow through lack of sleep but refused coffee and between us we managed to set things up and keep the vet happy.

...Then we did it all again a few days later, but I'm happy to report we have passed another TB test and the first grazing of Seavy Carr is done!

By Rosewood Farm, Jan 28 2017 10:50PM

This week it was revealed that scientists have teamed up with supermarket bosses to ‘encourage’ us all to replace red meat with more vegetables and fruit. That’s right, supermarkets have only taken about 70 years to start caring about our health and that of our environment - but do they really?

Now, some farmers rely entirely on supermarkets to sell their produce for them and they have to be rather careful about what they say for fear of losing their contracts. Here at Rosewood our only contract is with you, the consumer, so we don’t need to skirt around the issues. The only thing we have to fear is a court case but to be honest, the publicity of the supermarkets stamping on a small ethical producer would be a gift!

Firstly, let’s look at some stats. By 1961 there were already 572 supermarkets established in the UK, and they continued to grow, with the biggest four, Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons & ASDA accounting for 76.4% of the UK grocery market by 2011. At the same time the amount consumers spend on food has declined from just under £1 in every 3 in 1961 [pdf] to just over £1 in every 10 by 2011 [pdf].

It’s not only the way we buy food and how much we pay for it that has changed; over the same 50 year timespan what we eat has also been transformed. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) keeps track of global food consumption levels and the figures make for some interesting reading.

Changing patterns of UK food consumption over half a century
Changing patterns of UK food consumption over half a century

As we can see, fruit & veg has seen huge increases in consumption of 52%, almost five times that of meat. And they want us to eat even more despite the UK already importing some 65% of our fruit & veg. There is nothing in the announcement about stocking more British or sustainably grown food so we can only assume that the plan is to ship in even more produce from water-stressed regions of the world, despite the obvious issues.

Meanwhile, levels of red meat consumption, most commonly blamed for both declines in health and climate change, have in fact already dropped by 1657 tonnes or 25% of daily consumption. Bearing in mind that over the same period the UK population has risen by almost 20%, individually we are eating 37% less beef & lamb. Hardly a compelling argument for skyrocketing demand.

Here in the Lower Derwent Valley, we are experiencing the direct consequences of this shift in food patterns. The floodplain meadows have been annually grazed the same way for at least 1,000 years but this traditional practise is coming to an end quicker than you might think as people move away from eating grazed meat. In line with the common trend of falling cattle numbers, our area has seen its own decline, leaving us as the last cattle farmers left standing on the floodplains.

UK cattle numbers continue to decline significantly from the mid-1970's
UK cattle numbers continue to decline significantly from the mid-1970's

Reproduced from; Agriculture; historical statistics [pdf]

It’s not just the decline in red meat consumption driving the change of land use, we have also severed our links with animals as workmates - once upon a time we relied upon animals, cattle and horses, to provide the power to grow all our food and they required large areas of pasture in order to harvest the sun's energy and turn it into work. Since the 1930’s, when fossil fuels started to replace draught animals in earnest, the UK has lost more than 97% of these grasslands to either intensification, drainage and/or the plough.

Some of the measly 3% which remains does have significant protected status but the one thing that legislation can’t protect against is now their biggest threat - neglect.

Whimbrel; rare wading birds depend upon cattle grazing for habitat and food
Whimbrel; rare wading birds depend upon cattle grazing for habitat and food

Farmland birds and small mammals thrived in the patchwork we used to have of short grasslands, wet woodlands, marshes and waterways and so too did migratory winter visitors which rely on cattle grazing these pastures for food and habitat. Grasslands provide resilient crops that can withstand and protect the soil from being washed away in the seasonal floods. The one thing that underpins this diversity of life is the annual removal of the grass crop by mowing and/or grazing, without that the fragile ecosystem becomes much more homogenous, with the more delicate plant species, and the animals that rely upon them for food, outcompeted by coarser, rank vegetation.

Coarse vegetation, lacking in diversity, takes over if left ungrazed
Coarse vegetation, lacking in diversity, takes over if left ungrazed

It’s not that environmentalists and farmers don’t recognise the need for grazing animals to maintain biodiversity, but it’s just that they can no longer [financially] afford to do it because demand has dropped and what demand there is does not want a beef supply that ebbs and flows with the seasons.

We can see this if we revisit our consumption graph - although it shows an almost 40% reduction in red meat consumption, the figures DO show that individual total meat consumption has risen by 11%, largely driven by the almost 5-fold increase in poultry (not red meat) alongside a 6% increase in pork. The scientists & supermarkets didn’t mention that, perhaps because it runs counter to their conclusions or maybe it was because the supermarkets are responsible for the massive increase in chicken consumption in the first place.

Chicken is a wonderful meat for supermarkets. They have grown their market entirely on the back of convenience, and what that means in practise is predictability - you want to walk into a supermarket and know that your 300g packet of chicken breast will be there every week, year round. Throw a load of cheap fossil fuels at chickens and you get quick, predictable results. Because mother chickens don’t need to rear their own young like mammals, we can ramp up egg production, bang those eggs in a machine, move the hatchlings into a climate controlled shed and have them oven ready in just 40 days, when you just scoop them up off the barn floor and pack them in to crates on a lorry.

Imagine trying to sell a supermarket a bunch of wether lambs which had to live out on a mountain for a couple of years before being ready, each reared by mothers of differing abilities and shaped by good or bad weather - lol!

Veg is even easier to manipulate. There are no pesky welfare concerns to bother yourself with and soil erosion is an unedifying thing for consumers to learn and protest about compared to animal cruelty. The production of them rides on the coat tails of the idea that vegetable growing is a wholesome activity and not actually completely reliant on fossil fuels to provide its machinery and chemicals, especially moreso as they involvement of animals in their production recedes. Entire trailerloads that don’t meet the spec can be rejected without a second thought.

It’s great that consumers are now concerned enough about preserving our environment to let it influence their buying habits - this is proven by the fact that supermarkets are using this as the excuse to try making us more reliant on crops. It’s great that consumers want to support small farmers, evidenced by the popularity of supermarkets faking this on their labelling. What is crushingly disappointing for us is that the message designed to encourage us to eat a more sustainable diet is now having the exact opposite effect.

Gone is our varied mosaic of farmland, gone are the cattle grazing the pastures, chicken is king and vegetables can get away with murder.

The Alternative?

If Sainsburys really does want ideas to encourage us to eat less meat, rather than just maximise it’s own profits, I have a suggestion - they should stop selling it! Before the rise of supermarkets our meat came either directly from farmers and/or butchers, we valued it more and we ate slightly less chicken, pork and seafood and more grazed meats which maintained higher levels of wildlife and more variety in the countryside, simultaneously offsetting the damage caused by crop production. Farmers were able to make a living and our traditional meadows were grazed properly. Today the consumer has been separated from the land where their food has been produced and the people who produce it, and both have suffered as a result. Without supermarkets exerting their desperate need for predictability and uniformity we could make better use of our natural resources again.

So c’mon Sainsburys, go the whole hog, ditch the meat altogether and let consumers, the environment, animals and farmers get a better deal.

By Rosewood Farm, Jan 23 2017 01:38PM

We love a bit of mythbusting at Rosewood. We also occupy a strange kind of hinterland, with militant ‘Cowspiracy’ viewers on one side and our own industry on the other; we sympathise with both, but fit in with neither. Whilst we defend the role livestock can play turning around the environmental damage done, we are under no illusions that some practises from some farmers and companies are far from ideal and have caused this damage. In a change from our usual defence against Cowspiracy disciples, the Peterson Farm Bros. blog and accompanying meme of ’17 myths about Agriculture in 2017’ handed us the ideal opportunity to do some mythbusting of our own in the other direction.

Some of the 17 points raised we agree with of course – we (famously) don’t believe that veganism is an effective answer to the sustainability issues of our food system, and we don’t believe that meat and dairy are inherently unhealthy. We also don’t believe that ‘Organic’ is always healthier or safer. What is healthy will vary from person to person, organic and conventional methods vary, a lot, and human beings are actually a very resilient, successful species so it takes something quite extreme in our food to make it actually ‘unsafe’.

Some of the others we partially agree with – not all farmers are uncaring to their animals or the environment, but it’s simply a shocking lie to pretend that no individuals exist in the farming industry who do not care about welfare or the environment…we’ve met them! The key, as always, if consumers don’t want these people to continue, is to get to know your farmer/s!

But, that still leaves us with 14 mythbusts to mythbust.

GM or not maize is an all-or-nothing crop providing little wildlife habitat
GM or not maize is an all-or-nothing crop providing little wildlife habitat

The Peterson Brothers focus their pro-GMO argument on safety. This doesn’t really bust any myths about their “evilness” though. Very, very few consumers out there are concerned about the safety of GMOs, the industry just tells us we should not be scared and then demonstrates how safe they are…in order to neatly sidestep the point, exactly as the PFBros have done. The “evil” perceived in GM comes from their close link to Monsanto and companies like them. GM are a big business thing, I can’t cook them up in my backyard, which is why they are inextricably linked to big business, just like our food supply will be if we come to rely on them.

The PFBros have a good stab at making Monsanto appear cute and cuddly, saying that they don’t set out to harm the environment. This is a similar argument to the ‘safety/non safety’ one related to GMOs – it tells us nothing. When we walk most of us don’t set out to kill snails, but in our single minded mission to get from A to B, we inevitably step on some. People are snails to Monsanto & Co. Their mission is to make money and unfortunately for the rest of us, what makes them money isn’t always what keeps us or our ecosystems happy and healthy.

Monsanto etc. don’t force anyone to use their products directly, the PFBros are correct on that, there’s no guns pointed at heads. But, they can give your competitors a fossil-fuel based shortcut to short term higher profits, putting you out of business unless you get on board with them and compete. They can tie you into contracts raising chickens for 2p. They can use their economic might and excellent lawyers to suck you into their seed and GM patent wars if you refuse to get on board. Hey, maybe I’ll get a lawsuit for saying this? That would shut me up real quick, I can’t afford it. They can, despite the PFBros protestations of Monsanto’s relative poverty (just how much money does one need to be considered rich these days?!).

Perpetuating the myth of overpopulation is another such tool in the arsenal of making people OK with exploitation from these companies, one the PFBros are keen to hop aboard with. Everyone worried about population growth should stop what they are doing and watch ROSLING’S WORK right now. They should also stop a minute to consider what’s going on with farming right now, amidst all the wailing about this population boom. Low prices, that’s what. Farmers struggling and going out of business, whatever their crop, left right and centre. It’s very simple supply and demand – if food was in short supply, farmers would be makin’ hay right now. In fact, farm incomes in the US keep on dropping and things are no better here in the UK.

It’s a story repeated the world over. For over a decade we’ve heard there is a dairy shortage, and there’s still no sign of that actually kicking in anytime soon. We overproduce food like it’s going out of fashion, and we waste a third of it, just because we can. To our mind at Rosewood, it does not feel like we are at a point of desperation that justifies burning up our dwindling resources even faster. Because that’s all the ‘lower inputs’ of GM and chem based agricultures does. It’s not enough to pat yourselves on the back for using less of a finite resource we don’t actually need to use anyway, like the PFBros do while they ‘bust’ the 7th myth.

It also strikes us at Rosewood as a little stupid to base the food supply of this monster population on resources which WILL run out at some point. Will all the profit now be worth the turmoil and suffering then? But then, the PFBros are remarkably blasé about such things. In their ‘bust’ of myth 3 – that organic is the only sustainable way to farm; they seem to be arguing that because we need diversity, everything farmers ever choose to do should be above reproach. We should have no brakes, no limits, no questioning of our decisions. Everything any farmer does is legit. Does anyone really think that is a desirable reality?

But then, the PFBros do set the bar remarkably low for beginning to worry about environmental impact, as they explain that farmer’s pesticide sprays are 95% water and very little of what isn’t actually goes onto the crop. It is, apparently, irrelevant that the bit that isn’t water is poison potent enough to kill insects and so on. While the PFBros are quick to argue for diversity amongst farmers, apparently this does not extend to the rest of the living world.

Insect-life aplenty even in our most 'intensive' grass crops at Rosewood
Insect-life aplenty even in our most 'intensive' grass crops at Rosewood

Likewise, monocropping is apparently nothing to worry about. They claim it’s all OK because farmers will, for example, rotate three crops on a piece of land. I don’t know how much the PFBros know about nature, but 3 species, one at a time, is a totally woeful total compared to, well, anything anywhere else apart from sterile desert. Our own pasture contains 94 species of plant and we feel a bit happier about our biodiversity figures, but perhaps that’s just us? Maybe ‘nature’ can function on just 3 species in rotation?

They are right that factory farming is the most efficient way to raise animals. As long as you don’t take all inputs and impacts into account, of course. In terms of kilos of flesh churned out for £s in, sure, it wins hands down. But in terms of energy in vs energy out, or acreage used to produce Xkg, it only works with some creative mathematical and logical gymnastics. That’s without even beginning to measure the environmental cost which of course, farmers and Monsanto don’t pick up the bill for. Try taking into account all the land used for all the resources which go into a factory farm, all the machinery and transport it takes to make those pieces match up, it all falls down. That’s why we’re stuck with good old tried and true organic even when the 9billion get here. Because even if there isn’t enough meat to go round without factory farming – tough. We can’t magic up more fossil fuels!

We’ll write a blog specifically dealing with the maths and efficiency of ‘factory’ vs ‘extensive’ livestock another day, since it is very important as a lot of both anti-livestock and pro-factory farming arguments hinge on the idea that factory farming is most ‘efficient’. Which should, in itself, tell the logical person that the truth lies somewhere in between and that neither livestock-free or factory farming supplies the answer, but rather the same mixed system we’ve relied on for millennia…

We do however agree with the PFBros that labelling is a minefield, but the PFBros apply their classic ‘point-missing’ justification to defending a complete lack of labelling beyond ‘beef’. All cattle are, according to them, “grassfed” because they eat some grass….If the PFBros can’t even comprehend a world or system in which cattle receive no grain at all in life, no wonder they don’t understand ‘grassfed’ at all. To clarify, all cattle eat some grass and most eat rather a lot of grain throughout their lives, and it’s the lack of grain and all its associated problems that consumers are, rightly in our opinion, concerned about. Our own cattle live on nothing but grass from conception to slaughter. That’s grass fed. Not the ‘grass and grain fed’ which most cattle are. Nor is it simply ‘grass finished’ as the PFBros suggest it should be called.

When we say grass fed, we mean grass fed
When we say grass fed, we mean grass fed

Whilst happily sailing past the point, the PFBros take the opportunity to gloss over an important issue with grassfeeding – the stage of life in which the cattle receive the grain. Grass finished (grain early on, grass before slaughter) is far more preferable for those concerned to the feedlot model the PFBros defend (grass early on, grain to finish) as the benefits of grass and the issues with high grain diets are quickly lost as cattle adapt to either. For example, high grain cows put onto grass lose 80% of the harmful e. coli in their gut within just two weeks –imagine what happens over months.

Labels have their limitations however and as always, the only true way to make sure you are voting with that £ in your pocket every time you eat for the countryside and community you want to live amongst, is to follow that chain and get to know the producers directly. If you are locked out of a chicken shed due to ‘biosecurity’, ask if that sits right with you, whether chickens should be able to survive the same airspace as human beings. If you can’t have access to records of chemical use or mortality rates, what does that tell you? Are you truly happy sending money to Monsanto and the like? We are all about choice at Rosewood – eat GM if you want, eat meat if you want, eat vegan if you want, just please, look into the production behind it and check it’s what you really believe in.

By Rosewood Farm, Jan 16 2017 01:54PM

I wasn’t planning to blog so soon after my last installment about Planet Earth, but then a report, revealing how birds are being cropped out of the British Countryside, dropped into my inbox. I felt it was important to share this news as so often we can easily feel like our contribution is insignificant when it comes to preventing and reversing climate change. This is different, there really are lots of things we can do to halt the decline of farmland birds and their habitat.

You may be forgiven for thinking that we are anti-arable farming here at Rosewood after years of us going on about how bad crops are for the countryside and how much better grassfed is for us, the environment and the animals. So you may be surprised to learn that we do actually like some veg with our meat, and we don’t think humans should turn into carnivores - we just think that the balance has been somewhat tipped in the wrong direction.

I don’t know any farmers who actively enjoy destroying biodiversity but the level of passion for our wildlife varies among them from apathetic to absolute dedication. The problem we face is that the market doesn’t offer many opportunities to reward farmers for having the most biodiverse farms, in fact it is largely due to the personal interest of farmers & conservationist that we have any wildlife left in the UK at all.

Sprout aficionado John Clappison produces 5% of the UK's sprout crop
Sprout aficionado John Clappison produces 5% of the UK's sprout crop

It was during a meeting with one farmer last year about our plans to graze his recreated wet grassland that the enthusiasm really hit home. John is an arable farmer with a real passion for growing brussels sprouts, but it turned out his passion also extended to taking shots (with his mobile phone's camera) of the Lapwings living in his sprout crop! But when was the last time you saw ‘Lapwing-friendly’ sprouts on the supermarket shelf?

Post-war governments & the EU have certainly played a big part in both habitat loss and restoration over the years, and opinion remains divided over whether Brexit will be good or bad for nature. At Rosewood our own experience, taking part in the EU-funded Countryside Stewardship Scheme for ten years, was a mixed bag. On the one hand the capital grants were great - they helped us to restore the hedgerows that had been lost due to years of neglect (as opposed to active destruction).

A new mixed-species hedgerow planted at Rosewood Farm
A new mixed-species hedgerow planted at Rosewood Farm

The other side of the coin was that we were farming by dates and numbers. Prescriptions were put in place to stop us grazing after x-date and not before y-date, not taking into account the weather, ground cover or alternative grazing/housing for the animals. ‘Farming by numbers’ was both practically unsustainable and took absolutely no account of whether we were achieving our wildlife objectives or not. If I could change one thing about the system it would be that any incentives are paid for results and let farmers farm in the best way they see fit to achieve those results.

Fast-forward to the present day and we can see the legacy of ‘farming by numbers’, coupled with unsustainably low prices for livestock, in the number of local farmers who are giving up grazing in the Ings. There has also been a [not so] coincidental shift in what the market is demanding from farmers too. We all know about the effect that the cheap food policy has had on farming but less often mentioned are the unrealistic specifications that farm produce has to conform to. In the good times the prices paid for produce may be reasonable, but there is virtually no demand for the produce which falls outside of the spec so it fetches a much lower price. This has shaped the countryside for years with farmers forced to produce what they can sell, not necessarily what benefits their land and biodiversity.

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) the largest member of the Plover family
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) the largest member of the Plover family

Hugh’s War on Waste challenged us to start demanding wonky veg to cut food waste. Not only does this represent a waste of time and energy in growing and transporting food that we will never eat but that veg is taking up valuable space once inhabited by our farmland birds. As we spray and cultivate crops in pursuit of perfection we are actively wiping out the insects, seeds and nesting sites on which our farmland birds depend.

This is why at Rosewood we sell-direct, as we have always kept Dexter cattle that are much smaller than most breeds of cattle. Dexters are the ‘wonky’ veg of the beef world, so wonky that you won’t find them in the supermarkets at all. Ironically we find that our customers find that the smaller joints and steaks suit them better for home cooking, when they are given the choice. We have also found that Dexters, unlike the supermarket specification-hitting larger breeds, are ideally suited to grazing the diverse and damp grasslands of the Ings without causing damage to the soil.

Redshank (Tringa totanus) is a target species for the new wet grassland
Redshank (Tringa totanus) is a target species for the new wet grassland

So, what does this mean for the birds? Well, the other advantage of being in direct contact with you, the consumer, is that we can talk about the problem of declining bird numbers and how eating more beef really can help us to address this. Our passion has always been grassland and grazing livestock, so we’re not planning on becoming arable farmers anytime soon, and much of our land is unsuitable for cultivation anyway. Overs the years we have amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience in managing the land and livestock together for the benefit of wild birds and by working with farmers like John, we are able to spread our impact over the wider arable landscape too.

So here are a few things you can do to help us to put the birds back into the British countryside;

- Write to your MP to put birds into Brexit by letting them know that you want to end the ‘farming by numbers’ approach

- Help us to invest in new hedgerows, ponds and bird boxes with our 'Veggie' donation box

- Keep buying the wonky veg, and serve it with some wonky beef

- Take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch on the 28th - 30th January

- Share this blog with all your friends and inspire others to bring the birds back!

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