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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, Mar 19 2017 04:14PM

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


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


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



For the pasture base;






For the filling;




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


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





By Rosewood Farm, Dec 3 2016 05:21PM

You may have heard us talk about ‘Conservation Grazing’ in the past and not be exactly sure what it involves. In the simplest terms conservation grazing is the keeping of animals with the primary objective being the management of a wildlife habitat, as opposed to rearing for meat or dairy production.



The process involves raising animals on the land in a way that mimics once common farming methods in order to preserve or recreate biodiverse grassland habitats. These methods have fallen out of favour over the years as farming techniques have changed. With new machinery, chemicals and breeds of livestock we have been able to produce food which better matches the long supply-chain, convenience markets of the modern world. The problem is that the rate of change has been so rapid that evolution hasn’t been able to keep pace and an overall loss of biodiversity (plant, insect and animal life) is inevitable.




One solution to biodiversity loss is to set aside land that can ‘go back to nature’. The problem with this approach is that nature has adapted to cope alongside farming for the past 10,000 years. Some species have been lost completely whilst others have changed their anatomy and behaviour in order to survive. The Lower Derwent Valley contains many important examples of habitats shapd by thousands of years of farming. As we cannot bring back extinct species nor recreate the exact conditions that existed before we, as a species, began to farm, then we can only ever create a new, modified habitat that may have more life than intensive farmland but lacks much by way of diversity of life.



The back to nature approach also has one other major obstacle - us. At the dawn of farming there were just 5 million people on the planet and the first cities were no more than large villages of today. Aside from food production we have greatly changed the landscape in a way that we aren’t willing to sacrifice with housing, drainage, roads and other infrastructure that would also need to be removed to recreate nature as it was.






The Lower Derwent Valley is famed for it's biodiverse grasslands
The Lower Derwent Valley is famed for it's biodiverse grasslands


Conservation efforts therefore tend to focus on preserving and linking up the small pockets of habitats which remain in the modern landscape. The majority of species, although threatened, do still exist and are able to repopulate suitable areas when available. Humans have used animals as a source of food, power and many different materials throughout history so it is no wonder that so many habitats have been shaped by livestock over millennia.



It’s easy to forget that prior to the industrial revolution the only way people could travel or move things over land beyond a walking pace was by animal power. Cultivating the land & moving goods all involved oxen, trained cattle, and later horses to provide the motive power. This was renewable energy but it did require lots of grazing for the many cattle and horses, which had a profound effect on our landscape. The land was also a lot wetter in the days before mass drainage and suitably dry arable land was in short supply. Fortunately grazing animals were able to utilise wetter or seasonally flooded grazing lands that would be unsuitable for cultivated crops.



Grazing; the eating of the leaves by either nibbling or ripping (depending upon species) by the animal allows light to reach the ground. New seedlings and less competitive grasses and wildflowers then stand significantly more chance of thriving. Many ground nesting wild birds such as lapwing require short, open grasses in which to nest and rear their young and hares in particular favour the fresh, nutritious growth to feed on throughout the year.




Grazing; creates nesting sites & increases chick survival for bird species
Grazing; creates nesting sites & increases chick survival for bird species


Trampling; the parts of the plant that aren’t eaten are crushed by the weight of the animals walking over them. This also helps to allow more light to reach the ground surface and ensures that dead and decaying matter is pressed into contact with the ground. Invertebrates and soil microbes can then more easily consume the plant and incorporate the important carbon element into the soil.



Trampling; soil contact is important to lock up carbon in the soils
Trampling; soil contact is important to lock up carbon in the soils


Dunging; the indigestible parts of the plants pass straight through the animal to be deposited on the ground. In addition to recycling nutrients back into the soils for subsequent plant growth, dung piles are also home to over 250 different invertebrate species in the UK. Animals which are not routinely treated with insecticides to control internal parasites produce much healthier dung with more insects that provide food for many birds,bats and larger mammals such as badgers and foxes.



Dung; chemical-free & full of insects, a vital food source for many birds
Dung; chemical-free & full of insects, a vital food source for many birds


A greater variety of different sward heights and types are created by animals than by mechanical cutting and changes in the species, timing and duration of grazing are all used to produce the desired effect for wildlife. Animals which are perfectly adapted to grazing are much more efficient and the sheer scale of the task means that there aren’t enough human volunteers to manage the sites by hand.



At Rosewood we have ponies, goats and sheep used in conservation grazing but the stars of the show are cattle. Due to the way they graze, and their size, cattle are best suited to grazing and trampling some of the roughest, overgrown pasture & turning it back into productive, biodiverse habitat. Ponies and sheep nibble rather than rip the foliage with their tongues so they are better suited to fine tuning the shorter swards after the cattle have passed through.



The LDV is one of the top three sites for Snipe in the British Isles
The LDV is one of the top three sites for Snipe in the British Isles


Grazing animals tend to breed each year and numbers fluctuate on an annual basis through a combination of predation and shortages of fodder in winter. This ensures that only the fittest animals go on to breed the next generation. As farmers we are more protective of our animals than mother nature, managing their grazing and making hay to ensure that they can survive the winter and create a surplus. Unfortunately cattle numbers here in the Lower Derwent Valley have dropped significantly over the past decade as eating habits have changed and farmers have found it more difficult to justify keeping livestock. Unfortunately this has had a knock-on effect on the wildlife value of the meadows.



Increasing biodiversity remains the primary goal for conservation grazing and provides the greatest amount of satisfaction but unfortunately satisfaction alone doesn’t provide for the upkeep for the herd. To enable this to continue wesell meat and other produce to help fund the whole process and the more meat we sell, the more habitat we can maintain. You can do your bit for nature without even leaving your home. It really is that simple!





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, Jan 13 2016 03:18PM

Do you remember what you were doing on this day 20 years ago? I do. The 13th of January 1996 was a Saturday, and it followed a week in which school was an annoying interruption to the more important work of preparing the ‘goatshed’, as it had become known, to house the entire Rosewood pedigree Dexter herd. On that day we returned to the small village of Whenby, in North Yorkshire, to collect a little black heifer. The previous week we had visited Foulrice Farm to view the in-calf ‘Sprite’, a pedigree Dexter, who became the first member of the Rosewood herd.


Paul with Foulrice Sprite, who founded the Rosewood herd in 1996
Paul with Foulrice Sprite, who founded the Rosewood herd in 1996


I was first introduced to the Dexter breed some years previously, when I read The Spacious Days by Michael Twist, in which the author’s first heifer, called Garnet, arrived in the guard’s van of the train and completed her journey in the back of the Austin 12 motorcar. The story inspired me to seek out the Dexters at the Yorkshire smallholding show in 1995 and as well as meeting local Dexter breeders and their animals, I also bought some beef braising steak from the show, which tasted divine.


I made contact with Pat Garrett at Elvington and cycled the 9 miles to visit her herd one sunny weekend. I had seen the herd by the side of the road to York, in the middle of the village, many times before. It always intrigued me how a whole herd of cattle could be kept on just five acres of land, which appealed to me as although the family farm extended to 260 acres, I was restricted to ‘farming’ the two small orchards on the farm which amounted to just half an acre in total, which I had to share with the farm’s poultry.


Pat & husband John were so enthusiastic about their ‘Butterbox’ herd that I couldn’t help but be inspired, and it was they who put me in touch with Sprite’s breeder, Mrs Marwood. Later that year Sprite was joined in our herd by one of the Garrett’s own animal’s, Butterbox Opal, then a maiden black heifer. Soon after the ‘founding four’ were completed by a cow and her heifer calf, Twiglet & Poppy, who were both red and were bought by Paul from another local herd.



The 'goatshed', a converted cartshed at Aughton Ruddings
The 'goatshed', a converted cartshed at Aughton Ruddings

Aughton Ruddings was home to the family dairy herd but was two miles away from our house, down in the village, so I would arrive in the morning with dad and tend the animals before cycling back before (and sometimes after!) the school bus arrived. The journey was reversed in the evening. 18 months later I started working on another local farm and the ‘Rosewood Smallholding’ expanded to include what was once the old boar pen, later the bull pen. Consisting of a small outdoor yard with the indoor area provided by an old railway goods wagon body, it was a nostalgic reminder of the book that had inspired the herd.


Over the years the herd continued to expand, albeit slowly due to a combination of work and college commitments and a lack of heifer calves born in those early years. Paul & I managed the cattle between us with temporary summer grazing on a number of different local fields that ‘needed eating off’. We were naturally introduced to rotational grazing and electric fencing, as permanent fences were often inadequate for keeping the small Dexters contained. Our herd, having outgrown the bullpen, moved to a neighbouring farm where both summer and winter lodgings were provided and, for the first time, we were able to use Paul’s restored 50-year-old Ferguson tractor to muck out the shed, rather than the hand fork and wheelbarrow!


In 2002 a smallholding came up for sale in the next village, with the land backing on to Aughton Ruddings. It had the advantage of two permanent farm buildings and 37 acres of pasture, so we decided to combine our savings and a mortgage to buy the farm. It came with the unappealing address of Ruddings Farm - Field so we renamed it Rosewood Farm after the Dexter herd.



First grazing, Rosewood Farm in 2002
First grazing, Rosewood Farm in 2002

In 2010, while grazing the banks of the river Derwent at North Duffield we met the team from English Nature who manage the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve and were invited to move the cows to the other side of the fence to help graze the traditional Ings meadows. Dexters are particularly suited to conservation grazing, and particularly wetlands, as their small size means they can graze for a longer period before causing damage to the grasses and wildflowers as well as thriving on a more natural pasture. Since then our animals have helped graze a variety of rare and threatened wildlife habitats in the Valley from water meadows to regenerated lowland heath grassland.


Today Rosewood Dexters is a sixty cow herd with many lines going back to those original four cows. We have added to the numbers over the years with breeding animals from the Kirise, Humberdale and Zanfara herds forming the herd as it stands. In 2007 we also formed a joint venture with one of our customers, another Paul, to incorporate the entire Mullacott herd.



The Rosewood herd, 2015
The Rosewood herd, 2015

Taking animals to the abattoir is never something you enjoy, but working with the Mounfield family butchers means that our cattle travel a minimum distance to slaughter and we know that they are respectfully handled throughout. The Dexter breed has helped us to develop a market for 100% grass fed beef that tastes like it used to. Our customers, throughout the UK, are directly responsible for preserving both the Dexter breed and the wonderful biodiverse wildlife habitats we have here in East Yorkshire.


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