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Welcome to Rosewood Farm's blog

 

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

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.



By Rosewood Farm, May 25 2016 01:41PM

Grassfed has become a real buzzword in the food world over the past few years; with the rise of the paleo/primal diets coming over from the US, grassfed has risen from a tiny niche in the UK to big business in a short period of time. The question is, what exactly does grassfed mean and why is it important?



There is currently no legal definition of grassfed meaning that any animal that has been fed some grass can be labelled as ‘grassfed’ without it being a lie - this may even include animals such as pigs or chickens which may eat a little grass but require a mainly grain diet to supply their nutritional needs. Here at Rosewood, when we say grassfed, we mean a 100% grass fed diet, but that begs the question, what is grass? Strictly speaking wheat is a grass, and so is maize, and rice; all belonging to the Poaceae (grass) family of plants. The difference between the grasses we know as cereals and those classed as forage is a matter of breeding.


Cereal grains have been selectively bred by humans for 10,000 years to produce the bulk of their nutritive value in the seed. This contrasts to forages, which in addition to grass also include many herbs and legumes, which provide the bulk of their food value in the leaf. The ‘big deal’ over this comes from the very basic fact that grazing animals have evolved for millennia to gain their nutrition from the leaf and although the newer seed nutrition we invented provides a great shortcut to faster growth for the animals, it has all kinds of subtle and negative side effects for their health and ours and the environment.



Fresh food and exercise are essential for a healthy lifestyle


There are two systems of breeding beef cattle; from dedicated, solely beef-producing ‘suckler’ herds or the spare offspring of dairy cattle. These calves are then reared in one of three main systems, either grain fed for the majority of their lives, grassfed followed by a shorter period of grain feeding for ‘finishing’ or 100% grassfed and finished.


A growing body of scientific evidence from around the world shows us that the most beneficial system for our health is 100% grassfed, including this study of Austrailian beef, which compared the results of each of the three feeding systems in terms of the properties of the meat produced. Only the grassfed system yielded sufficient quantities to be considered a source of omega-3 fatty acids, containing significantly more than either form of grain fed. Likewise levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a beneficial fatty acid with cancer-suppressing properties, naturally only occurs in significant amounts in meat and dairy, but the quantities are much higher in exclusively grassfed meat. The study also shows, as many others do, that even the partially grainfed system had a significant negative effect on the CLA and omegas of the meat, which is why we are so stringent on not allowing any grain at all into the diet of our animals, throughout their lives.



Source


Of course, as important as our health is, we also want to enjoy the food we eat. We ran a poll of our customers to find out their reasons for buying from us and seeing where we can improve. We were delighted to find that the top reason for buying Rosewood meat is the taste! Often the feedback we receive is that our beef tastes ‘like it used to’, with a real depth of flavour. Partly this is down to the traditional breeds, Dexter & Kerry Hill, that we keep, which have retained the slower-growing genetics suited to pasture grazing. But it is possibly also due to the variety a grazing life affords. Our animals range over a variety of local pastures and as we place such a keen emphasis on biodiversity and our grazing encourages this, they have a wide palette of wild plants to pick from alongside their native grasses - a far cry from a uniform, standardised unvarying pelleted feed.


So there you have it - grassfeeding is not just for wildlife, it affords livestock a varied and stimulating diet and the same can be said for the humans at the end of the chain too!



By Rosewood Farm, May 3 2016 11:45PM

It’s been a few weeks since I last sat down to write a blog, and it’s been a busy month with lambing, calving and preparing for turn out (if it would ever stop raining and allow the Ings to drain!). However, this week I’m going to talk about something other than food, the environment or wildlife.


Rosewood Farm isn’t the most modern of places; recycled materials comes into just about everything we do from packaging to the livestock buildings. That said neither do we have the ‘traditional’ layout of brick barns, reminiscent of a Constable painting. Not that any post-land enclosure farm buildings would fit into a scene from England in 1380, which is exactly where Tales of Bacon is set.




Ted, our resident ox, first met Natalie Roe (yes, you read that right!) the director & co-creator of Tales of Bacon, on his first film set back in 2012. The film in question is yet to air, but, thanks to the concept of the ‘webseries’, his latest venture has been much quicker to come to our screens. Filming of this York-based series began in Spring 2015, with some scenes shot here on the farm, and follows the travels of Thaddeus Bacon, a pardoner, and his encounters with, among others, a young noblewoman and a mysterious knight. The pilot episode, where we meet Ted & his Mistress, is available to view now online;



The series will be available free to view online, with three episodes already in production, and another three planned, ‘Bacon now needs your help to finish the series via crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. Some amazing amounts of work goes into making authentic costumes and props, which really help to deliver the carefully crafted script in an amusing yet believable way. You don’t need to spend hours standing in a Yorkshire woodland freezing your tunics off to help out though (that’s what the actors are not paid for) but you certainly can if you want to do a sponsored bacon-a-thon. No, from as little as £5 for a lowly serf you can help keep the medieval comedy roadtrip on the road and get your name in the credits, or pay a bit more and bag yourself a sainthood with a plethora of pardons.


There are plenty of good reasons to help make 'Bacon but the perks are just the icing on the pasty. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s worth supporting just to keep the laughs coming.



By Rosewood Farm, Apr 5 2016 11:45AM

Last time we explored our farm and herd’s links to the past and the more obscure uses we find for our cattle such as aiding academic research and providing museum exhibits. This time we thought we’d follow the trail of your money from when it comes into our hands, so you may see the similarly far-reaching positive effects it has. Our emphasis has always been on economic as well as environmental sustainability so this is something we devote much thought to - making the right choices and helping the right people.


You may be pleased to find out that your pound works very hard not only for us, but also other small British businesses from Hereford, to Hull, to the Hebrides! No farm is an island; picking the right suppliers is, to our mind, a vital part of the puzzle. Our suppliers are hand picked by us as people who are working as hard as we are to keep traditions alive and protect the environment. It’s not always the easiest or cheapest option but we feel it adds greatly to Rosewood’s value that goes far beyond good meat and benefits Britain’s economy and society.

( CLICK HERE to enlarge image )


Two of the biggest expenses on most farms are feed and fertiliser, but as we produce all our own feed without artificial fertilisers, we don’t spend anything there. All animals require minerals however - deficiencies can make them very sick, very fast. Most modern livestock these days are fed ‘chelated’ minerals which undergo a process to make them more readily absorbed by the animals, supporting higher levels of production. There are concerns however about industrial chelating agents being very persistent in the environment, getting into waterways and tinkering with the minerals there. The traditional way around this problem was to put the minerals through a plant first to perform the chelation naturally. Seaweed is ideal for this, which is why it was so widely used as fertiliser and animal feed in the past, if available, and we are happy to stick with this tradition. Our certified-Organic seaweed is simply harvested, dried and milled by the Glenside Group - a small business owned & run by the Robertson family in West Lothian.


Shearing of the sheep is a vital annual task that is also usually carried out ‘in-house’ by Natalie but further processing of the fleece to make natural stuffing for handmade dolls and knitting yarns is carried out just up the road. The woollen industry was once a major part of the economy here in Yorkshire, employing thousands of people in mills across the county. Many are now sadly gone for good but Paul Crookes established the Halifax Spinning Mill, near Selby, to keep the tradition going. Paul had years of experience in the wool trade before establishing his own mill in 2009 on a redundant WWII airfield, from which the business takes its name. The mill is equipped with genuine refurbished 1900s machinery to carry out all tasks from washing the raw fleeces to spinning the finished yarn.


Halifax Spinning Mill
Halifax Spinning Mill

Another portion of our takings also stay within the county: despite tightening food hygiene and animal welfare regulations in recent years our local abattoir, Mounfield Family Butchers, still slaughters on site just a matter of yards from some of our grazing. Five generations of the Mounfield family have been butchers in Bubwith since they established the business in 1890. The small abattoir, located just behind the shop in the middle of the village, has a straw bedded lairage where the animals are allowed to stay overnight to calm down from the journey rather than being slaughtered straight from the lorry. As a farmer, knowing and trusting the people who handle and slaughter your animals is of paramount importance in ensuring high welfare and quality meat so supporting Mounfield’s is imperative for our peace of mind, and yours!


The local abattoir is important for the next step in the process, too. We like to use everything from the animal and make the most of what they produce, and this includes the hides, or skin, which must be collected as soon as possible after slaughter and cured with salt, here at the farm. The tanning process preserves the animal skins so they can be used for leather and rugs which is a specialist skill that used to be common in the UK. Today the vast majority of hides are tanned at the other side of the world in China and South America where environmental protection laws are less stringent, making the process far cheaper than here in the UK.

Holmes Halls Tannery
Holmes Halls Tannery

There are very few tanneries left in this country today, but one of them is located in our ancestral home of Sculcoates, by the River Hull. The company has been tanning here for 200 years and most of the hides from Old Hull area where our relation Richard Rose worked as a slaughterman would have travelled the short distance upstream by barge to reach the tannery. Today we take our cattle hides to Hull to be turned into cowhide rugs helping to continue the tradition, albeit in a small way, of the British tanning industry.


Our sheepskins can also be turned into luxurious rugs and to achieve this we send these to the only Organic tannery in the UK. Nicki Port operates this tannery on her smallholding in the Herefordshire countryside. Being organic, all tannery waste is processed through a reedbed filtration system. We see the whole process when we deliver the raw sheepskins of transforming the hides, which have spent the previous few years protecting the sheep from the elements, into soft, fluffy sheepskin rugs. The end product feels good, not only to touch but also in bumping up the value of sheep which improves welfare and supporting British tanning with the knowledge that rivers aren’t being poisoned in the process of furnishing our homes.


Combing at Organic Sheepskins Tannery
Combing at Organic Sheepskins Tannery

As well as keeping the traditional industries going we are also keen to encourage new sustainable businesses. Whilst the energy used to feed our animals comes via the grass from the sun, we do still need to power the fridge and freezers here on the farm to keep our meat fresh. We’d like to have our own wind turbine here on the farm, but for the time being we have to buy in our electricity. When we connected the farm to the mains in 2005 we signed up with Good Energy who only supply 100% renewable energy to the farm. The company generates its own wind and solar electricity but also buys power from thousands of smaller generators around the country. In recent years more and more of our neighbours have invested in wind & solar generation to supplement the income from farming, meaning that even the freezing of our beef helps the local economy.


A Rosewood pound works hard for Britain - it’s not just flung on the pile, there’s no Rosewood account in the Cayman Islands and the only bonus is to the environment!

By Rosewood Farm, Mar 18 2016 08:34PM

We apologise in advance for a little bit of bandwagon-jumping, but we do have reason to be excited about the latest archaeological discoveries in the nearby town of Pocklington. The site is not only yielding things like warrior graves and unprecedented shield burials, it also has significance to us personally.


The Iron Age burial site in Pocklington (MAP Ltd)
The Iron Age burial site in Pocklington (MAP Ltd)

We are quite into our history here at Rosewood. Nat writes historical fiction, takes part in historical reenactments with her oxen and writes books about them, too. I’ve always held a particular interest in ancient and Roman history. The Iron Age Pocklington finds link all this together for us, particularly as we are one of a few stalwarts keeping the closest living relative to the ‘Celtic Shorthorn’, the Dexter, going long after they fell out of favour in the wider industry due to their small size.


Historical reenactment with Rum & Natalie
Historical reenactment with Rum & Natalie

I’ve spoken quite a lot over the years about why we feel smaller rather than large cattle work better for us, our business and the land but for historylovers the Dexter goes even deeper than that. It’s thought Britain first gained domestic cattle when ‘the Celts’ turned up. Whether they tamed the Aurochs that were already here, brought their Celtic Shorthorns with them or created a new type specific to Britain by accidentally or intentionally mingling the two is subject to debate, but what we do know is that the ancient cattle that this culture would have depended on were very similar to the Dexters we have today.


These little cows would have been the cornerstone of the newly created settled farming communities; they provided the muscle to make significant amounts of the scratches in the ground we needed to put our seeds into. They would provide a concentrated amount of muck to feed the plants. Their leather was vital for many uses, the milk and cheese a really handy form of supernutrition, to say nothing of the beef!


Allerthorpe Common; grazing through time
Allerthorpe Common; grazing through time

Cattle certainly were the key to wealth and prosperity back then. Maybe not so much these days, sadly for us. Our Dexters have kept us going for 20 years though and are helping others in unique ways too; because they are so similar to the cattle of ancient times, we are helping museums and academics with their work. You can find one of our Dexter cowhides in the Iron-age exhibit at Shrewsbury Museum and we provide bones from our slaughtered animals to Dr Louisa Gidney to aid in her research. Not only are Dexters the appropriate breed for her study but our cattle live longer than most modern cattle and have a diet very close to that of the cattle back then before anyone could get their hands on large quantities of modern grains or soya. This means they make a useful comparison to the bones Louisa unearths on digs.


Spot-the-Difference; Romano-British, Dexter & Modern cattle bones (Gidney)
Spot-the-Difference; Romano-British, Dexter & Modern cattle bones (Gidney)

Louisa’s 2013 thesis, ‘Offspring of the Aurochs’ features some of Natalie’s research on the subject of oxen too. We currently have a pair of our Dexters in training, Rook & Raven, to become oxen too and who knows what information this project may yield?


We graze land extremely close to the Pocklington dig site. Allerthorpe common is, like the Dexters, a unique relic that has survived by fluke, also like the Dexters because it was thought unsuitable for modern farming. It struck us this morning that the people being unearthed from this dig site were extremely likely to have hunted on Allerthorpe Common so closeby and the landscape would presumably be largely unchanged and thanks to us, the Celtic Shorthorns that were possibly once herded down there to graze 2500 years ago are back!


So you see, buying beef directly from your friendly local grazier does so much more than sourcing a tasty meal - it also advances our knowledge of the past.



By Rosewood Farm, Mar 7 2016 02:59PM

This time last week we were in the middle of a ministry inspection to check the eartags on all of our cattle. It is a legal requirement that cattle must carry a tag bearing the animal’s unique ID number in each ear. This number is given to the calf at birth, for which it also receives a ‘cattle passport’, an identity document without which the animal cannot move off the farm and accompanies the bovine throughout its life. This, in conjunction with on-farm record books and the database held by the government, allows individual animals to be traced & located at all times. Every farm and place where cattle are handled, such as markets and abattoirs, also have an individual ID number which is logged in the passport and on the database after every move.


Eartags under inspection
Eartags under inspection

The morning went well and the inspector was pleased with our record keeping & cattle handling, which made his job easy. Just as he was preparing to leave another vehicle pulled up in the yard. This time it was our Food Hygiene inspector who was passing by and decided to call in for an informal visit. The requirements for selling meat, on which we are inspected, include having a traceability system in place to track all the beef sold right back to the birth of the animal. Every beef label must include a traceability code which in our case is the eartag number(s) of the animal(s), for which we also keep detailed records. Although it’s not compulsory, we also use the same system to track our lamb and mutton too, so we can offer the same level of traceability on all our produce.


We use the more stringent beef labelling regulations on our lamb too
We use the more stringent beef labelling regulations on our lamb too

The food hygiene inspector was the third person that week to ask the question - ‘who supplies your meat?’ This always takes us by surprise a bit. Isn’t it obvious? We do! Our product is very specialist and we have it that way for a reason; our high personal standards and belief in what we do. It seemed only natural to us that our customers could rely on us absolutely to uphold these standards at all times, so that they know what it is they are paying for! If we have to deviate, we will let customers know before purchase and amend labelling accordingly.


Buying in meat to sell on is tricky for us. For a start it has to be purebred Dexter beef or Kerry Hill sheepmeat. Sometimes this is something we have to deviate from slightly in order to keep up with demand because these breeds are not terribly numerous and we therefore occasionally end up with crossbred animals, but they will be labelled as such so no one is under any illusions.


The second difficulty is perhaps the more serious of the two and that is finding true grassfed stock. What is often meant by ‘grassfed’ in the wider industry is that the animal eats some grass in accompaniment to its grain ration. As you may know, we are avoiding grainfeeding for a number of health and environmental reasons so this is simply not good enough for us. We also insist that the grass the animals eat avoids the trappings of grain such as ploughing and re-seeding, fertilising and weedkillering, as a lot of the benefits of grassfeeding are completely lost in that case!


Grass - it's very important to us
Grass - it's very important to us

This is why we do not sell pork and chicken either, even on behalf of other producers. Until we, or another producer, crack the problem of the environmental impact of the inevitable grain proportion of these animals’ diets, or the soil erosion caused by ‘free ranging’ them, we cannot sell it in good conscience!


When used together the theory is that via the eartags, database, records and labels meat can be traced from farm to fork. However it isn’t always clear to the consumer which number relates to what, or who they can ask. At Rosewood the label is just a small part of the traceability system. Being a small, independent family farm when you send an order or an e-mail through you are in direct contact with me; the same person feeds the animals, fills in the records and packs the orders. You don’t have to rely on the label alone to tell you how your meat was produced - just ask!



By Rosewood Farm, Feb 22 2016 10:52AM

‘Are you organic?’ was a question put to me recently by a new customer at Rosewood. It’s a question we hear a lot and it's always a difficult one to answer because we’re not registered with any organic certification body but neither are we a ‘conventional’ farm. Taking a look at the Soil Association ‘Organic farming’ webpage we would appear to fit their definition to the letter, however, we're not members so we can’t legally claim to be organic or label the products as such.

We rarely plough at Rosewood, but when we do we add loads of organic matter
We rarely plough at Rosewood, but when we do we add loads of organic matter

We farm the way we do because it matters to us and we wouldn’t want to do it any other way. As per the definition of organic farming, our system is built upon organic matter, humus, in our soils. The more we add and the less we destroy, the better. Organic matter protects our soils from erosion and allows more water to be stored, making the crops more naturally resilient to both drought & flood. It also enables us to eschew the use of artificial chemical fertilisers, which are also responsible for loss of organic matter in conventionally farmed soils.


Some of our other reasons for not being certified as Organic are more obscure.


We are fortunate enough to have retained a number of small, local abattoirs in our area. This is quite rare thesedays since more and more regulation has pushed small abattoirs to the brink and we are keen to support them. As a result of this good furtune however, we can minimise journey times to slaughter and personally accompany our animals to their final destination in a matter of minutes. Maintaining these links with the local community and knowing the process from beginning to end is very important to me. Organic certification however would mean that our animals have to travel further to an approved organic abattoir. However, the Soil Association, the main UK organic body, have recently introduced a scheme where small, local abattoirs may operate under the producer’s own certification for an additional fee, so this will not be an issue in future, hopefully.


Grazing is key to everything we do
Grazing is key to everything we do

Last year we contacted a UK organic certification body to ask what could be done to register our farm, officially, as organic. The problem came down to the land, or rather our lack of ownership of it. Rosewood Farm has grown organically, if you will, from grazing small spare grass paddocks to covering some 300 acres of varied grazing, much of which is conservation land. We only own about 10% of the area we farm, so we rely heavily upon rented land for the bulk of our grazing and the majority of these are short-term lets.


UK farming is undergoing great change at the moment with the average age of farmers being 59, so many are looking to retire or get out due to low prices. The process of conversion takes three years, regardless of how 'organic' the land has been to date, by which time our lets may have expired anyway as our landlords change with the times. As you can see, Organic certification throughout all this would be a royal pain the backside, sucking up vast reserves of our time and energies, without any discernable difference in what we produce.


You can rest assured we have never used any artificial fertilisers for any of our land. All our customers are welcome to search the farm for a secret stash of chemicals and our accounts will show no receipts for it, ever! We also produce all of the feed for our animals here on the farm, which is 100% grass and forage throughout the year. The only supplements our animals receive are a lump rocksalt & Organic approved Hebridean seaweed meal to ensure they always have access to healthy levels of minerals.


All our winter feed consists of is homegrown grass
All our winter feed consists of is homegrown grass

Finally, the most important part of any pastoral farm is the livestock. Winters such as 2012/13, remind us that flexibility is important for animal welfare. Due to the dull, wet summer of 2012 the forage we made was of poor quality without the sugars to keep the animals going through the winter. We fed molasses to the cattle which helped to eek out the silage we did have, but forage stocks still dropped dangerously low due to the following long, cold spring of 2013. The freedom of not needing to consult a distant third-party and seeking their approval before we make decisions in the best interests of our livestock was vital.


Organic certification is of most advantage to longer supply chains where the customer must trust the label alone and the laws which govern its use. Here at Rosewood most of our customers are in direct contact with us and all are welcome to pay a visit to the farm to see how we do things. The label would therefore be an expensive luxury at £700 per year in cash and untold hours of paperwork etc. and would only add to the price we have to charge for our produce.


So no, we’re not an organic farm but we do a bloody good impression of one!


By Rosewood Farm, Feb 8 2016 10:43AM

Our philosophy at Rosewood Farm has always been that nature knows best and you’re better working with rather than against it. Studying and mimicking natural environments provides the guide for how we farm. This has lead to us rejecting the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides on the land along with minimising cultivation, practising rotational grazing and following basic principles of permaculture. The land itself features a series of grassland habitats which range from floodplain meadow to lowland heath pasture, but they all have one thing in common - grass.


Natural grasslands are an important haven for many insects and wildflowers
Natural grasslands are an important haven for many insects and wildflowers

The other thing they have in common is that they support a range of flora and fauna that, nationally, are threatened because we’ve moved away from these natural systems and now rely more upon herbicides & insecticides to produce food. The key component of grasslands is their relationship with large grazing herbivores, animals which can, and do, thrive on grass. Grass has evolved along with grazing animals; grazers need grass and grass needs grazing, without one the other will not survive. It’s that simple.


Many plants and animals have evolved alongside grass and grazing animals to fulfil roles within the ecosystem including wildflowers, pollinating insects, birds and small mammals. Even here in the Lower Derwent Valley we are increasingly moving away from pastoral systems towards a cultivated landscape and this is creating an imbalance in the range of habitats available to wildlife.


Pasture is the ideal habitat for Field Voles
Pasture is the ideal habitat for Field Voles

We keep pedigree Dexter cattle and Kerry Hill sheep at Rosewood because they are good grazers which thrive on these natural grasslands without extra intensive feeding. We also keep these traditional breeds because we love working with them, they are distinctive, interesting and full of character. Much as we would love to keep them all (some more than others), the inevitable consequence of farming with livestock is that, one day, you have to say goodbye to some of them. Slaughtering animals for food is never easy, or pleasant, but just like in nature, too many grazers will eventually destroy the habitat they created. Taking good care of animals and the land, making sure they don’t overgraze, also takes time & money, and as a family we need to earn a living.


Globally meat consumption per person has risen by 2.5 times in the last half century, the bulk of which comes from more intensively farmed pork & poultry, in addition to huge increases in consumption of fish. Meanwhile here in the UK, beef & lamb have both seen significant declines. This has been good for sales of chicken, but less good for our grasslands. A number of campaigns including ‘Meat Free Monday’ encourage us to cut down on the amount of meat we all eat but they struggle to encourage more beneficial ways to produce meat and care for the land in a sustainable way, until now...


The Meat Free Monday Vegetarian Box
The Meat Free Monday Vegetarian Box

We’ve been working on a new product at Rosewood, one which allows both vegetarians and people who eat only a little meat to really help the work we do for wildlife, conservation and animal welfare. It's a tough one for us to work towards, as the bulk of our income comes from selling grassfed meat and if we want to do more we first have to sell more meat so vegetarians tend not to be our biggest customers. The Meat Free Monday box came about as a 100% vegan alternative to our regular meat boxes and will help us to achieve the aims of the eat less meat philosophy. This box is also perfect for the ethical omnivore looking to eat less but pay a little more for meat reared in a sustainable way.


If you’d like to support a small scale, family farm but don’t feel able to eat more meat, you can find the Meat Free Monday box available now in our online shop.



By Rosewood Farm, Feb 2 2016 11:53AM


Today, February 2nd, is World Wetlands Day 2016 and this year the focus is on Sustainable Livelihoods. More than a billion livelihoods depend on wetlands around the world, and ours is just one of them.


The RAMSAR convention is the international treaty for the protection of our global wetlands. Here at Rosewood Farm we are at the heart of RAMSAR site No. 301, the Lower Derwent Valley, known locally as the ‘Ings’. The site comprises one of the most important traditionally managed species-rich, alluvial flood-meadow habitat remaining in the UK. More then one third of our grazing pasture and hay meadows lie within the site which provide the bulk of the summer grazing for our pedigree Dexter cattle and Kerry Hill sheep.


My childhood was heavily influenced by the Ings. Growing up in a small village on the edge of the floodplain we spent many hours walking, fishing and even ice-skating on the meadows! They were ‘normal’ to me, and it wasn’t until I moved away to study agriculture that I realised not everyone was lucky enough to have them on their doorstep. The effect that the wetlands have on the wildlife of the wider valley is also profound and a number of nationally threatened species are common here.


Over winter the Ings become home to thousands of migratory waterfowl
Over winter the Ings become home to thousands of migratory waterfowl

Once winter sets in our meadows become part of a vast inland ‘sea’, barely recognisable as fields but providing relief for millions of gallons of flood water. A large number of swans, ducks and geese either spend the winter here or use it as an migratory staging post, a chance to rest and refuel on their seasonal journeys from as far away as South Africa & Iceland.


Away from the Ings, wetlands are also vitally important to the functioning of our business back on the farm. When we took over the land in 2002 we acquired two farm ‘ponds’, which were severely silted up, so much so that the very first calf to be born on the farm, Holly, was found quite happily laying in the middle of the main pond. Over the years we have restored and enhanced the ponds by desilting and creating open water habitats in addition to planting up a seasonally flooded wetland area with willow, yellow flag iris and bulrushes that have naturally flourished.


Rosewood Holly - pictured in the middle of the farm 'pond' in 2003
Rosewood Holly - pictured in the middle of the farm 'pond' in 2003

The same spot today, fully restored to open water
The same spot today, fully restored to open water

When we began farming cattle in 1996 we discovered another advantage of the Ings in the sweet hay that contributes to the most succulent and tasty Dexter beef. Upon this we have built our own sustainable livelihood, adding grassfed lamb to the business six years later and developing a reputation among customers throughout the UK for beef & lamb that tastes good, “like meat used to taste”.


The wetland is also important for purifying the waste water from the farm - the butchery & toilets feed into the system, which first passes through a septic tank before discharging into our two constructed reedbeds. The clean, filtered water then discharges into a ‘living soakaway’ containing a variety of wetland plants included coppiced willows. These trees provide cuttings for the new trees in the adjacent wetland and some of our winter woodfuel. This week I have been busy maintaining the wetland, coppicing & planting willow and dividing reed plants before Spring.


Newts turn up in some unusual places around the farm
Newts turn up in some unusual places around the farm

What was once a damp wasteland has been transformed into a haven for a number of birds, insects and amphibians. Looking out of the farm office window and see bullfinches feeding on the reeds is one of the highlights of the year. While improving and extending the farm buildings we have discovered a number of frogs, toads and newts hiding in damp foundations, and being able to relocate these little 'bog monsters' to the safety of a more suitable habitat makes it all worthwhile. Last, but not least, last year our wetland became a very believable Medieval graveyard for the filming of Tales of Bacon - a truly diverse range of sustainable livelihoods.


We may have lost 64% of world wetlands since 1900, including most of our traditional flood meadows here in the UK, but their use continues, simultaneously providing us with food, jobs and drinking water. If you'd like to learn more about wetlands around the world, take a look at the World Wetlands Day website or pay us a visit here at the farm and see what they have to offer.



By Rosewood Farm, Feb 1 2016 02:01PM


Riverford is a name that comes up many times when talking to our customers; many of them supplement our grassfed meat boxes with an organic vegetable version from the veg box pioneers. So when I heard talk of a Riverford meat-eating survey, I was intrigued what had prompted it, especially so soon after my veganuary blog post. You can read Guy Watson’s thoughts here.


Now, I’m inclined to agree with Guy on the merits of Cowspiracy, a film perfectly designed for boosting sales of tofu and destroying animal agriculture. However, it seems to have got to him too as he concludes with the statement ‘most forms of animal agriculture are simply wrecking our planet.’ A more balanced statement would also point out that a large proportion of agriculture’s impact comes from growing crops.


A neighbour waters his crops while I feed my cows
A neighbour waters his crops while I feed my cows

Here at Rosewood, an all grassland farm in Yorkshire, we’d be hard pressed to convert to organic vegetables; our heavy, marshy land is not best suited to crops and at present what isn’t damp and splodgy is under 6ft of flood water. Cows can be whipped off the land at a few hours notice to escape floods, eating stored grass from the same pastures instead, as has been practised for at least 1000 years in this area.


Crops would just be ruined. Not to mention the damage caused by running tractors over such damp ground and the sheer sacrilege of taking a plough to biodiverse pasture and replace it with one, or maybe two things at most. There are lighter pockets of land in the valley and recently there has been a move towards arable production and a corresponding rise of soil erosion and silt ending up in the river as a result.


There is a grain of truth to the issues ‘Cowspiracy’ raises, of course. The interpretation of the message misses the mark however, and here at Rosewood we grow increasingly worried that this simple, popular message risks harming progress towards a more sustainable future, despite good intentions. ‘Meat’ is such a generic term to use, all meat is far from equal, so to say we should eat less ‘meat’ is like saying we should eat less ‘food’ - correct in many cases, but hardly universally so.


The ‘eat less meat’ message becoming so popular relies on people accepting the headline statements at face value. Take for instance, the ‘shocking’ greenhouse gas figures in Guy’s blog telling us that livestock production produces the same GGs as every vehicle on the planet combined. Sounds awful, until you consider that according the the UN, this is around 14.5% for livestock at most, so even if you put every carbon belching car and every farting cow kept in the most eco unfriendly manner possible together, you still only arrive at 30% max. That means if we could ALL be vegan and ride nothing but bicycles from tomorrow, we’d still have 70% of our greenhouse gas to trouble us. So there is something other than driving cars and eating meat, which we are told are the worst of the worst problems, that is responsible for 70% of our emissions…


Similarly, there is a popular notion that beef consumption has gone wild recently. In fact, whilst it’s true that the world as a whole is eating more beef today than in 1961, rising by 126%, before we start gasping in horror, perhaps we should also take into account that at the same time world population has risen by 127% - effectively, our beef consumption is in fact static.


Meanwhile, pork weighs in at a hefty 336% rise, but far and away the biggest climber is poultry with a whopping 1033% increase over 50 years. Seafood has also seen similar explosive rises, and look at the problems the ocean faces, so again, it feels like beef is being unfairly targeted as especially problematic for the planet.


Free range pigs at 'pasture'
Free range pigs at 'pasture'

The reason we no longer produce pork at Rosewood, and have never produced poultry commercially, is because these both rely heavily upon annual crops, mainly grain, for the bulk of their feed. Both (naturally forest-dwelling) species can be kept at pasture, but in a way that feels even worse - tying up both pasture land, putting it under the damaging effects of snouts and scratching claws where they were not designed to go without big tree root systems to protect the soil, and ploughing up the other half of our land and carting the results to them.


Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we should give up our eggs, pork & poultry completely, because pigs and poultry can be unsurpassed waste converters, if kept under the right system. And I’m not saying that all cattle are entirely pasture fed, far from it - but they can be, readily. Just as crops can be grown under permaculture methods and escape the monoculture, soil erosion, fossil fuel reliance and pesticide issues that trail them around, too.


Following Cowspiracy and Guy’s logic, beef, pork, eggs, poultry AND crops should be cut from our diets completely, based on the results of some growing systems. By Rosewood’s logic, we should carefully examine where everything we eat comes from instead. 'Cutting down' on an entire food group, without being asked to make a distinction based on production methods, penalises the producers in that group who are trying to change it for the better and gives those in other groups a free ride on sustainability issues.





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