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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, Nov 17 2016 12:12AM

Monday came around and it was time to select two cattle to make the journey across the road to the abattoir. At thirty months of age these animals have both spent three summers at Rosewood grazing some of the most species rich grasslands in the country. Their meat, offal and bones will feed many families over the Christmas period, and their hides will be tanned in a UK tannery next year, the proceeds from which provides our main source of income.

Last week we made a Facebook post about swapping turkey for Rosewood Farm beef this festive season and advising our customers to order early if they wanted something special for the big day. The post attracted some criticism from a couple of vegans who thought we should instead be advocating a meat-free meal this Christmas.

It’s true that we don’t need to kill and eat these animals to maintain the grasslands, they could do exactly the same job if they were allowed to live out their days on the farm. The problem is that taking care of their needs does take up a lot of time and money and despite launching our Meat Free Monday box to help fund the slaughter-free ideal, after nine months we are yet to receive any donations.

One crop that was suggested as an alternative for the ethical eater was almonds. I'm sure many of these nuts will be consumed over the festive season by meat eaters and vegans alike. It turns out that most, 1 in 5, of the world's almonds are produced in the US state of California, a staggering 935,000 acres of them, equivalent to 25 times the area of our remaining UK meadows or one-quarter of Yorkshire.

I have nothing against almonds per se, but suggesting that they are a better ethical alternative to Rosewood beef seems crazy (you could even say that it's nuts) when you take a look at how California produces those crops. As Philip Lymbery recalls in his book, Farmageddon, the almond orchards are far from idyllic;

"Not the chirp of a bird or the buzz of a bee. It was eerie. The distant thud of a helicopter breaks the silence; an aerial crop-sprayer dousing the carpets of monoculture in every direction with chemicals to keep nature at bay."

A true monoculture of California Almonds, keeping nature at bay
A true monoculture of California Almonds, keeping nature at bay

Eliminating wildlife completely from our farms is one way to avoid them eating our crops, and a very common one at that, but at Rosewood we take the opposite approach. Our aim is to encourage as many plants, insects, birds and mammals as possible to thrive alongside our cattle and sheep. It means we can produce food and allow wildlife to flourish without competition between the two.

Even if you can forgive the way the almond crop is produced (it’s a big ask, but run with me on this one…) to call them ‘vegan’ you must also ignore how the crop is actually used. We humans only eat the kernel which represents just 14.5% of the crop by weight (as a comparison, a beef animal will yield at least 33% of edible meat). The remaining 85.5% of the almond consists of the hull and shell, which are used as livestock feed and bedding respectively. This scenario isn’t restricted to almonds either, other meat & dairy alternatives such as coconut and soy products also rely upon intensive livestock operations to provide a use and market for the by-products, something that is never mentioned in the promotional material.

Although almonds and other nuts may provide the basis for an alternative christmas meal, we’d find it very difficult to replace the cows with nut trees here in the Lower Derwent Valley. The suggestion that we should produce crops instead of meat relies upon the notion that all land is the same and its use may simply be switched from one crop to another. Nut crops require a well-drained soil - not something we have much of in the wetlands of East Yorkshire!

Assuming it was possible to grow almonds in the Ings, just as all land is not created equal, neither are all crops. Proteins are made up of a series of building blocks called amino acids. Our bodies can synthesize some but not all. The others, essential amino acids, must be consumed as part of our diet in order to grow and repair the muscles in our bodies. Proteins which contain the essential amino acids in the ideal proportions are regarded high quality proteins. Almonds score a worthy 55 out of 100 on protein quality, but beef is way in front at 94.

Even if both protein sources were complete (ie 100+) because of the protein quantity of each, to receive your full daily requirement you would still need to eat at least 227g of almonds as opposed to just 151g of beef. The good news for the nuts is that you could gain 66% of your daily calorie intake v only 19% for the beef. So on the Rosewood diet you’d have to force down a few more mince pies & chocolate to make up the difference!

As interesting as nutrition is, our food choices remain much more about our experiences and how they make us feel, rather than facts and figures, though. Eliminating animal products from our diet feels like the right thing to do because there is no getting away from the uncomfortable truth that an animal has died to provide you with meat. The less obvious truth is that the only way to remove death from food production is to eliminate almost all life, as the Californian almonds growers seem to have achieved.

Meanwhile, in the Lower Derwent Valley
Meanwhile, in the Lower Derwent Valley

Pioneering US farmer Joel Salatin is well known for his inspirational thoughts [pdf] on what our food system should look and feel like;

"Food production should be aromatically and aesthetically pleasing. [...] Our senses have been given to us for a reason. How do we know we have infection in a wound? It smells bad. If our food production system stinks, it doesn’t bring much happiness."

With that thought fresh in my mind I decided it was time I took a break from writing this blog and went outside for a walk to check the cows. The sights, sounds and smells of life in the grasslands of the Lower Derwent Valley are always a pleasure and the primary reason I choose to do this work. While words and figures can easily be manipulated online it is much more difficult to fake the experience of walking across a landscape full of wildlife. Perhaps that is why our Facebook vegans choose to believe their own version of reality rather than experience ours.

By Rosewood Farm, Oct 24 2016 05:00PM

Avid Rosewood followers will know that we were awarded many more acres of grazing on the nature reserve we work on, including an area known as 'Seavy Carr' which we were particularly excited to get, as it is the roughest of the rough and represents the kind of real challenge we enjoy getting our teeth into! To make the locally notorious Seavy Carr productive would be the biggest test of our techniques and given the current neglected state of it which has seen the numbers of wading birds drop to all-time lows, seeing the snipe return as a result of our actions would be like winning the Oscars for us!

As soon as we took on Seavy Carr, another 80acres on top flowed our way from other local farmers who feel they can not justify the expense and trouble of keeping cattle on their more marginal land. We need more mouths out there, to halt the dominance of rushes and hairgrass and stop the encroaching scrub to bring back the redshanks, the snipe, the otters, owls and harriers. But we can only afford or justify more cattle and sheep if we have the meat orders to back it up.

However, even in the unlikely event we somehow magically doubled our business overnight and can justify going out and doubling the size of the cattle herd AND sheep flock, we're still going to be under our carrying capacity. So, there is a little space here for a helpful side-project...

...which is why as we type 5 Exmoor pony mares are winging their way up the M1 from Exmoor to Seavy Carr to begin the Rosewood Herd. No, pony meat will not be making it's way into the shop (ironically, if the British public could get its head round pony meat we could justify keeping many more, but until then the numbers will probably remain in the single digits...just sayin').

Autumn, Antelope, Nectar, Natterjack & Rowan
Autumn, Antelope, Nectar, Natterjack & Rowan

Exmoor ponies seem to have a lot in common with our Dexter cattle. They are both small, they are both freakishly tough, able to survive on rough vegetation in exposed areas, and both freakishly strong; Exmoors are able to carry an adult with ease and anyone who's tried to hold onto a bolting Dexter at a show will tell you about their strength despite their size!

They are also both thought to be animals that our Bronze Age ancestors would have recognised. The exact story having been lost to time, bone and DNA evidence currently suggest that both are the closest living relatives of the 'British Hill Pony', used by the Celts to draw their chariots, and the 'Celtic Shorthorn' respectively. Archeology is just now revealing what a boom-time this period was for our fen-like, marshy landscape and the important role livestock played within this culture. We feel that Exmoors will be right at home here!

Our first 5 mares fresh off the trailer from Exmoor
Our first 5 mares fresh off the trailer from Exmoor

Just as Dexters nearly came to grief in the past as modern farming moved on without them, Exmoors were so very nearly lost forever at one point. During the late 40s, there was perhaps no more than 50 worldwide in total. The ponies had survived Henry VIII's cull of small horses and provided transport for the Exmoor locals since time immemorial, but as motor vehicles came in, roads improved and people got hungry during WWII, gradually more and more were lost.

Ours are coming up from the historic Anchor herd. In 1818 the crown sold off Exmoor Forest and Sir Thomas Acland, the outgoing warden, took just 30 ponies and founded the herd now known as Anchor. WWII nearly finished them off however when a butcher rounded up all forty animals to illegally sell the meat elsewhere. Luckily, a dozen animals escaped and thus, the herd survived. Their plucky ancestors are now founding our herd!

They look so strangely 'right' in this landscape...
They look so strangely 'right' in this landscape...

Exmoors are still struggling. Still classified as 'endangered' by the RBST, which is only one step away from the dreaded 'critical' category. Like all our native breeds of equine, they seem to be struggling to find a place in the modern world. We're not sure what the answer is, as the days of animal transport are firmly over and Britain remains resistant to horsemeat. Few have the budget or inclination to keep horses for fun and there are many British native breeds which need viable populations in order to save them. But for now, Rosewood is honoured and pleased to be in a position to offer a home to a genetic pool of these ancient British ponies.

As for Seavy Carr, the icing on our cake was to be told that Natural England intend to construct a car park and viewing platform there so that visitors can add it to their tour of the reserve. Wheldrake and Duffield Ings are already firmly established favourites with birdwatchers and we hope that Seavy Carr can become a favourite for its Dexters and Exmoors, showing the grazers which create the habitat for waders and reminding people how important it is for these animals (and their keepers) to have a viable future, for the sake of our wildlife.

By Rosewood Farm, Sep 13 2016 01:42PM

Wednesday will see the publication of the biggest survey of the UK’s wild plants, insects and animals ever undertaken. The State of Nature Report 2016 pools data from 50 leading conservation groups. We already know that it’s not going to make for a happy story, as this week’s Farmers Guardian put it, “[the report] is certain to make uneasy reading for farmers” - but not this one.

The report busts apart any notion we may have held that crops are the more eco friendly option than meat. Farmland is identified as the area with the worst record in species loss, and one area in particular - crop production. Of 1118 farmland species studied, 11% are facing extinction. Concurrent with the rise of the ‘eat less meat’ message, as consumers turn away from their sunday roast and towards ‘just a little bit of chicken’ in their sandwich or wrap, over 1000 hectares of pasture was converted to arable land between 2006 and 2012. I’ve tirelessly argued for many years that meat has the potential to be much more ‘green’ than crops, that it is reliance on crops that makes meat into an issue rather than the conservation tool that it can be when regenerative grazing practises like ours are brought into play.

But there is an even more important line to be erased than the one we drew between plants and animals. The FG article about the report talks of ‘battle lines drawn’ between farmers and environmentalists, but this is forgetting something. I’m a farmer and an environmentalist. Admittedly, there’s no question over which side of the line, if there must be one, I stand. I do have a family to feed in an area of high house prices and almost nonexistent employment outside agriculture. The thing is however, that I don’t think we should draw a line, or that we have to.

In our opinion here at Rosewood, a major failing of the stewardship incentives to date have been to treat conservation as a ‘crop’ with distinct areas set aside for ‘nature’ alongside intensive arable production. The result is small islands of different habitats between arable fields which, due to virtually non existent diversity, act as a road block to wildlife travelling between sites. What would be better is if we could resurrect the old blanket of habitat that used to stretch all over our island, the ‘inefficiencies’ as they came to be known of our food production providing scraps for wildlife of all types to thrive on.

There have been various government countryside stewardship schemes since the early-nineties to encourage farmers to retain and recreate hedgerows and pasture (did you notice that? pasture - animal feeding land, being encouraged for the sake of nature…). In 2013 we were approached by Natural England to graze an area of ex-arable land under one of these schemes on Allerthorpe Common that was in danger of turning to scrubland. Whilst financial incentives can help to recreate pasture on arable land, it’s a waste of money if the land isn’t then grazed, not to mention a missed opportunity for food production. We’ve now set all this right - the scrubland is held in check, food is being produced and it’s being done without subsidy/charitable donations, or fertiliser, or herbicide, or any of that stuff. That, to us, is perfection.

At Rosewood we are successfully integrating nature and food production, alongside each other. The majority on both sides - farmer and environmentalist - appear to believe it is impossible, but we beg to differ and are happy to demonstrate our reasoning to anyone who will listen.

As Simon Christian from Natural England puts it ‘Grazing with…Dexters, can have considerable conservation benefits…(Dexters) are often able to thrive on the semi-natural grassland and other habitats that are found on some of our most important nature conservation sites which require regular grazing to maintain their interest….Dexters are now successfully grazing species rich flood plain meadow grasslands within the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve.’ So, no complaints from Natural England on what we do, quite the opposite, and endorsement of your nature protection doesn’t come much higher than that!

In terms of survival as a farming business, we have been going for 20 years. We did not inherit our farm or start with any funding beyond what we had saved from working as tractor drivers or milkers. Our largest subsidy payout has been £3000 which might seem like a tidy sum, but actually probably only just covers the extra paperwork, tagging and other such things required to claim it, and our business most certainly is not reliant on it! No, our ability to carry on with all this solely comes through the sale of the produce obtained from these grasslands = you guys (thanks).

Fossil fuels were a quick fix, allowing us to overproduce. That made us feel clever, but pride comes before a fall. Now, we need to dust ourselves off and focus on developing techniques to up production, always with our ecosystem backdrop in mind. Not simply eeking out our dwindling supply of oil and leaving some future generation to deal with the fallout. The time is ripe for a change in attitude, for dropping the ‘battle lines’ between meat and crops and between farmers and environmentalists. In the past, a combination of animals and plants kept us fed without fossil fuels, in a time when larks were so numerous their tongues were a dish, when red kites were so common they were a pest, the equivalent of the urban fox today. It’s vital that the public help this process and actively support a new generation of ‘environmentalist farmers’, whatever they produce.

By Rosewood Farm, Aug 11 2016 12:36PM

I don't like to get personal, but I'm hoping I'll be forgiven this time. My reasoning being that I am quoted Monbiot on an almost daily basis by well-meaning people who should really be on the same side as me. We all care about the environment and want to be proactive, but unfortunately a division has been set up between us which harms forward progress. I was also asked recently to get specific on why I believe George is wrong, so I shall, taking his latest article as ideal fodder, in which he proclaims 'I've converted to veganism to reduce my impact on the living world'.

Disclaimer: I have no issues with veganism as a personal choice, indeed, I spend a lot of my time fighting the 'eat less meat' message on the grounds that nobody needs to be told what they 'should' be eating; we all have different dietary needs, budgets and tastes and we should be free to make the right choices for ourselves. No, my issue with veganism begins when it is touted as a solution for climate change, biodiversity loss etc.

Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) lovin' it in our pasture
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) lovin' it in our pasture

You're probably already aware from previous blog posts that I believe crop farming can be just as harmful to the environment as livestock farming, indeed is most of the time. And I'm hoping that you've followed my work in regenerating the internationally important wetlands of the Lower Derwent Valley, a role I fell into by accident, to know that livestock are a really handy non-fossil fuel tool in improving habitats and happen to produce human food and clothing as a by-product...something maize or potatoes do not. So, I won't revisit that here, I am simply going to discuss the points raised by George only, one by one.

His first argument focusses on the planet being unable to sustain so many people if they eat meat because livestock takes up so much land. Specifically, he rounds on extensive livestock farming, claiming it is no better than intensive because it 'uses up more land'.

My answer to this is firstly, that we can all stop panicking about the population. Seriously, watch this talk on Youtube by Dr Hans Rosling very carefully and get back to me. Secondly, what George completely fails to take into account is that land used for extensively grazed livestock is not taken away from nature - nature can live alongside, and biodiversity can even be boosted by the presence of grazing animals.

Butterfly, lovin' the Water Mint (Mentha aquatica) in our pasture
Butterfly, lovin' the Water Mint (Mentha aquatica) in our pasture

I was drafted in to the SSSI land near me to graze it when Natural England recognised it was undergrazed and losing biodiversity at a worrying rate. Three years on and biodiversity is booming, with species never before recorded on the entire nature reserve site being spotted for the first time! You only have to look at my Instagram account for real-world examples of some of the 95 wildflower species and abundant deer, voles, owls etc. that my cattle look after. Granted, the cattle aren't natural, they are merely simulating the action of native wildlife, but I don't mind if I'm farming cattle, deer or bison here; if the public would rather I switched from beef to venison, so be it! I could be browsing goats and/or pigs in a forest if that was my local habitat. The point is, large grazing animals, whether native or domestic, provide human food alongside tending an ecosystem, and maize, or soya, or whatever annual crop you care to mention, can only compete with the ecosystem.

There is also the usual efficiency thing in George's article, about needing far less land and it being much better for us to eat beans ourselves rather than feed them to stock. George drops a couple of clangers here -

Number 1 - My grazing livestock eat NO annual crops at all. The only thing they ever eat from conception to slaughter (except in extreme circumstances which has happened once in my 20years livestock farming) is unfertilised, native pasture from my own farm. So, if ALL the British citizens ate was meat from animals raised like this, not only would we have far more land available for food production, but we would have NO land that did not also support wildlife; NO sprayed, ploughed crop monocultures at all. Wow.

As an aside, if this monbiot-model were to be applied, it'd be a bit worrying - if we relied solely on crops, we rely solely on fossil fuels. The vast majority of crop production is currently inextricably dependent on diesel, petrochemicals and mined compounds for survival - if they ran out, vegan Britain would be stuffed! My cattle survive solely on the grass grown here which receives no inputs other than sunlight and rain. If oil or whatever runs out, we only have haymaking to consider which could be done by the animals themselves and minimal extra staff. They also have legs, so can deliver themselves to the abattoir or customer. If crop production had it's chemical rug pulled from under its feet and went back to relying on horses, we would have to swallow a drop in yields, needing extra land for the horses (which we couldn't eat because we're vegan) and needing many more hands back on the land, which would obviously affect how attractive the vegan model looks.

Number 2 - Pigs and chickens have their niche. If we are to be depending on crops for the bulk of our diet, we're going to produce a lot of waste as the proportion of the plant which humans can eat in the whole production cycle is a relatively small percentage, which rather than being a problem, pigs and chickens neatly convert into food for us (meat, eggs) and food for our food (poo for the crops). Most people accept that it's only when we divert human grade crops to these animals and coop them up too tightly or try to jam them into the wrong habitat that they cause such heinous environmental problems and completely lose their niche and efficiency.

Which leads neatly onto George's point later in the article about soya. He says that "Almost all the soya grown where rainforests once stood is used to feed animals." He's not wrong here, but it's very misleading without the background information to this and ends up making the wrong point. The reason animals today eat so much soya, is because demand has soared from humans (vegetable oil - the 'healthier alternative', up by 146% in 50 years), but we're only eating a portion of the crop in a very highly processed form, which generates staggering amounts of by-product, and it had to go somewhere, so it was used as cheap animal feed. This is a recent thing - our grandfathers in Britain wouldn't recognise soya as animal feed at all. Our stock survived without it before, and they can survive without it again if we stop fuelling the demand for 'vegetable oil'. As we've discussed, some animals can survive without any crops or byproducts at all.

Marsh Stitchwort (Stellaria palustris), just chillin' in our pasture
Marsh Stitchwort (Stellaria palustris), just chillin' in our pasture

Finally, George gives his main reason for finally turning vegan as witnessing a dairy farm pumping out noxious waste into a river. Apparently the Environment Agency did or could not act due to powerful lobbying forces at work on the government.

As a counter to this I can say that inaction from the Environment Agency is not something I recognise here. Here, in a wetland floodplain area, water is a big deal. We are actually constantly monitored because, ironically, a lack of grazing animals in the area and a move to cropping has meant sediment run-off into the river, silting it up and compacting the land, eroding the soil and worsening flooding. When they recently detected an increase in sediment levels, the alert went out and a meeting was arranged with local farmers to discuss what could and should be done. I admit, I rested on my laurels and didn't attend. This had the EA hunting me down and coming to inspect in person! Happily though, they found no problems in my dykes and said to carry on doing what I was doing.

I'd like to be back on the same page as Monbiot's concerned following, then they can ditch dietary contortions, enjoy their steak and I'd get some valuable financial support to enable my work to continue. If not, I could be out of business and my farm revert to the Monbiot Model - a small percentage ploughed to within an inch of its life for crops, and the rest undergrazed as it was a few years ago, with biodiversity plunging far enough to make Natural England jittery. I can find a silver lining in this though; if George can be so easily swayed by the actions of a single farm, then maybe that farm could be mine next time?

By Rosewood Farm, Jul 4 2016 02:30PM

One advantage of the long, summer days is that we can take some time away from the farm and still have enough daylight to tend the animals at the end of the day. Over the last two weekends this has involved a trip to visit a ruined castle or two. The first, Wressle Castle, is the only medieval castle in East Yorkshire, lying downstream from Rosewood on the banks of the River Derwent. Last weekend was the first open day of the castle after its recent restoration to preserve what remains of the once magnificent home of the Percy family. Following the English Civil War and an unfortunate accidental fire, the castle was reduced to the South range only, which is what still stands today.

Wressle Castle
Wressle Castle

As you may or may not know, Natalie writes when she’s not tending our flock of sheep. She writes both fiction and non fiction, usually on the subject of history. Her latest fiction project, the “Bearnshaw” series, charts the turbulent history of the fictional Bearnshaw family from the 1460’s ‘Wars of the Roses’ onwards. Volume two, Triumph of the Red Dragon, features King Richard III and Middleham Castle in North Yorkshire and it was there that we visited the brand new Richard III festival last Saturday (which was brilliant, by the way).

More extensive remains exist of Middleham than at Wressle, but with standing walls and windows looking out onto the surrounding landscape at both, it is possible to imagine the ancient landscape that would have once surrounded them. Although at Wressle the Ings have largely been cultivated as arable farmland, just three miles upstream at Bubwith our cattle graze the Dyon, an area of marshy pasture that was once grazed as a common by cattle, with the right to graze one animal known as a ‘beastgate’ in 1766. Today we manage the Dyon in, we imagine, much the same way as it would have been when the Percy’s were in residence at Wressle.

The land is never treated with chemicals and fertilisers, let alone ploughed and reseeded with uniform modern varieties of grasses. We rely on natural fertility; as a result the marshy meadow is a sea of variety and colour at this time of year, barely touched by the modern world. As we’ve mentioned before our cattle are also the closest living relatives to the Celtic Shorthorn and are the small, rugged type of cattle our medieval ancestors would have been familiar with. Although, whereas our ancestors would have shared their very houses with their cattle, we stop short there!

'Atom' and the rest of the herd graze the Dyon
'Atom' and the rest of the herd graze the Dyon

It’s a treat to move the cattle in the summer evenings when it’s cool enough for the them to do their job of harvesting the grass when the plants have had a day of sun to increase the natural sugars in their leaves, and feel part of a tradition that’s been going on for millennia. It also serves as a reminder that for all the flack ‘animal agriculture’ receives, it can and has been done without fossil fuels for far longer than modern intensive methods have been around, and should that system ever fail, it can do so again.

So although we may have a reputation as being out on a limb when it comes to farming, doing something ‘crazy’ and ‘radical’. In fact, that’s everyone else! We’re simply doing things the way they’ve always been done round here...

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.


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.

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