continues her investigation into viable alternatives to industrialised farming, including a visit to Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Berkshire
Pedigree Hereford cattle suckling their calves on the marsh, Romney Marsh sheep reared naturally, families of Gloucester Old Spot, Saddleback and Tamworth pigs rootling, poultry scratching about, ducks swimming and grazing, Bronze turkeys in full feather. Also a local abattoir and their own butchering. They deserve to succeed at the farmers' markets of London and they do. They also sell all their meat from the farm plus their own free range eggs - XL, which means they don't fit in the egg box.
WINDMILL ORCHARD FARM SHOP, WINCHELSEA, E. SUSSEX
HURSTMONCEUX in E. SUSSEX has two rivals making and selling truggs.
DAIRYBARN RARE BREEDS, STOCKBRIDGE, HANTS with free range meat, "sensitively reared and humanely slaughtered". www.dairybarn.co.uk
GREENFIELD HOG ROAST, STOCKBRIDGE, HANTS. Free-range pork both raw and cooked. A hog roast livens up any market, as well as being, I am told, the best way of making money out of meat.
BREAMORE BANGERS from the New Forest
ASHFORD TROUT FARM, FORDINGBRIDGE, HANTS, with their own fish cakes and fish quiches.
All this brilliance was soured for me by finding two chickens who had escaped the day's slaughter. We put them in a box (unfed and it was freezing) and I worried about them. Of course this can happen, and must often happen in any big operation. (They slaughter 2,000 a day). What really worried me was that no one seemed to care. I then saw the other stages in the chickens' lives. They arrive as day olds, in batches of 1,000. They have animal behaviourists studying them and working to improve their lot. These improvements include perches just off the ground, conservatories so that they can see the outer world in a controlled temperature, and birdsong and farmyard noises played to them, so that when they go out, the world is no shock to them. The animal behaviourists (from Elm Farm Research) just need to spend more time on the end of their short lives. "They're going to die anyway so it doesn't matter" is an industrial attitude, which I hope Sheepdrove will leave behind.
The cattle (Aberdeen Angus X S.Devon) seemed content, in with their calves. They were housed and eating Sheepdrove hay, but they are out all summer.
The Shetland X Cheviot sheep also were well cared-for, some grazing on chickory to enhance their diet. They lamb in February (indoors) and May (outdoors). I hope the Kindersley zeal may find some use for the wool and skins, but that is for the future.
The compost is impressive. They take in supermarket green waste and coffee grounds, garden waste from the local council, horse bedding from local stables and compost the lot with their own manure. It all goes onto their fields, which are still recovering from the onslaught of chemicals before the Kindersleys' time.
The rotation of cereals and herbal leys is carefully worked out to provide a complete diet for grazing stock.
Wildlife is encouraged right through the farm, with beetle banks, plantations, and bio-diversity corridors. Wild flowers, insects, birds, and small mammals are returning.
They also recycle their own waste water with a reed bed, feeding wildlife pools and a lake. This will cope with water from the conference centre, which is being built. When it is finished, they will be in a position to have school visits and tell the general public about organic farming. It will house a restaurant, and of course, barn owls, which are catered for all over the farm. www.bocn.org
Sheepdrove now has its own butchers shop in Lower Redland Road, Bristol. They also sell at farmers markets and direct to the public.
If the planet survives, Sheepdrove is working out a viable future for farming. I'm in no doubt about that. I just hope that as they succeed, they will be aware of the dangers of being big and powerful.
I learned later that the two escaped chickens had been taken home by one of the workers, fed and kept safe. This encourages me to hope.
The Kindersleys say in their alpha plus literature: "Nothing gives us so much pleasure as to look out across the countryside we own and know that all the animals and plants, whether wild or domesticated, are SAFE here."
May that always be so.
A very happy New Year to all my readers.
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