RosewoodFarm EVdexter

  Food as a by-product of conservation ~ UK-wide mail order

01757 289 640

's Blog

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, Jan 16 2017 01:54PM

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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




By Rosewood Farm, Dec 30 2016 02:54PM

I’ve written many blogs over the course of the year with topics ranging from Celtic Cattle to Conservation Grazing, but all tend to have an underlying theme of asking you to do more for our wildlife and our countryside. I aim to bring a range of news and views, from the farm, to this blog but something I don’t do enough of is to talk about what great things we have achieved!


None of this would be possible without you, the customer, buying our beef and enabling us to graze this internationally important habitat. So join me in a walk around the farm and please feel justifiably proud of all you have accomplished in 2016.


It was a wet start to 2016 after the Ings filled up over the Christmas period last year and the floods lasted much longer than usual. January the 13th marked the twentieth anniversary of the start of the Rosewood pedigree Dexter herd, which also gave us a chance to reflect on how Rosewood Farm has evolved over the years.


World Wetlands Day on February 2nd provided an opportunity to celebrate how important wetlands are to our future and talk about some of their many advantages. While international treaties such as the Ramsar convention are applied to protect many habitats around the world from damage, few people realise just how significant their own contribution is to maintaining these wetlands whenever they eat beef from Rosewood.


Teal (Anas crecca) gather in large numbers on the flooded meadows
Teal (Anas crecca) gather in large numbers on the flooded meadows

While saving the world’s wetlands from destruction, Rosewood became a location for filming of the amazing Tales of Bacon comedy webseries. The trailer, release in the Spring, featured many great scenes (and the odd ox) from the farm, and the crowdfunding campaign was so popular that the cast & crew were able to complete the series. Following the final edit we’re looking forward to the release early in 2017.


As the weeks passed it was apparent that the prolonged flooding meant that Spring grazing was initially in short supply and the seasons were running a bit behind schedule. Not only is that a problem for our cattle but while the valley is home to many migratory winter visitors to the UK that rely upon the floods, our resident and returning summer visitors require the food and nesting sites that the damp (not submerged!) meadows provide.


We grazed a new piece of land at Thornton for just one week the previous autumn, mainly to trample the coarse, woody growth and let light down to the more delicate grasses and wildflowers. By the summer there was enough cover to provide an few extra weeks of grazing for the cattle which put them on nicely. The ability to be flexible with our grazing gave the lapwing chicks in the lower reaches of the Ings a little more time feeding on the shorter grasses, to make up for the later start to the season.


Lapwing Chick (Vanellus vanellus)
Lapwing Chick (Vanellus vanellus)

It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly grasslands can change & regenerate with the reintroduction and careful management of grazing animals. Providing you don’t plough, the habitat remains in situ but suppressed, awaiting the ideal conditions to return to it’s former glory. We are lucky to have such a dedicated team in the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve who identify and record the results - a total of 94 different plant species identified in 2016 provide the building blocks of both great beef and a bounty of invertebrate & bird life. Finding Water Chickweed in the pasture was one of the highlights of our grazing season.


Water Chickweed (Myosoton aquaticum)
Water Chickweed (Myosoton aquaticum)

As summer rolled on we were delighted to be asked to do even more for the Nature Reserve by cutting and grazing some new sites in the valley. I admit that I was reticent at first and had a more modest plan in mind, as we barely have enough animals to graze our existing land to seemed like an impossible task to tackle Seavy Carr. But with overall numbers of livestock declining the need has never been greater and the buzz of seeing biodiversity increase on a site you manage is so all-consuming that we didn’t stop there and even agreed to manage another 40 acres closer to home for a neighbouring farmer.


Aside from the hay making, August was a busy month which saw the launch of the Dexter Pasty by Lynne at Wolds Way Pantry. We often say that there are more people living in London who receive a regular Rosewood delivery than in the local area but they will have to come a long way to sample the Dexter Pasty, but it’ll be worth it! The Dexter was soon joined by the Kerry Hill pasty which also went down well with regulars to the Goodmanham Arms and other local eateries.


The Wolds Way Pantry Dexer pasty was a massive hit
The Wolds Way Pantry Dexer pasty was a massive hit

We redesigned our website, www.rosewood.farm, to make it easier to navigate on mobiles, as more people seem to be buying beef on the go these days. We like to make supporting environmentally-friendly farming an opportunity for everyone with a low minimum order equal to a single freezer drawer but this year we’ve simplified it even further by ditching delivery charges too!


Our organic approach to farming greatly benefits wildlife but labels are both costly and often compromised so we launched the Rosewood Manifesto. Unlike the political equivalent, our manifesto isn’t a long list of promises that may never see the light of day but a list of the standards that we have, and will continue implement as part of our own personal ethics. Speaking of politics - at least one politician wasn’t afraid to get her feet wet when Rachael Maskell MP, shadow DEFRA secretary, paid us a visit to see our work and talk about what could be done to encourage more farming like we do.


Dicussing farming & conservation with Shadow Defra Sec. Rachael Maskell MP
Dicussing farming & conservation with Shadow Defra Sec. Rachael Maskell MP

As Autumn progressed the relatively dry season meant that the grazing remained firm and the trees held onto their leaves for longer. Cattle are the most versatile of grazing animals but with so many diverse sites to tackle a little variety was needed. A small herd of genuine Exmoor ponies joined us here in the lowlands of Yorkshire and went straight to work helping to restore some wet grassland to create favourable habitat for breeding waders in the Spring.


To round off the year we had our second round of cows & heifers giving birth. Sadly our first cow to be born at Rosewood Farm, Holly, passed away out at pasture this month. She wasn’t the oldest (her dad, Ilex, is still with us) nor the prettiest cow but after more than 13 years on the farm she was certainly a valued member of the team who will be remembered fondly. Her memory will help to be kept live as two of her daughters were among those producing the 4th generation of Rosewood calves.


New additions to the Rosewood herd relaxing together
New additions to the Rosewood herd relaxing together

Running both a farm and a mail-order business means that there’s always something to do, but probably the most calm time of the year are those few days after the last posting date for Christmas up until the day itself. The stressful period of collating special Christmas orders, many of which were first placed way back in July or earlier, and ensuring that they are all delivered, is over and I get a few days to see all of the animals and start making plans for the year ahead.


This year I used some of that time to visit Thornton and retrieve some of the cattle fencing that was too far into the post-storm floodwater to gather up before. Visiting the Ings every day during the summer to check and move the cattle allows us to see the gradual changes that follow the grazing season but returning after a few weeks away really brings it home to you just how much the habitat has been enhanced throughout the year.


So that’s our year, it’s been busy and we’ve made lots of progress but we simply couldn’t do it without you. Whether you buy our stuff for the contribution it makes to wildlife or simply because it tastes great, you are equally responsible for some great work. So what will 2017 hold for us? We have a few ideas, watch this space...





RSS Feed

Web feed