Pasture Champions: Clare Hill and Silas Hedley-Lawrence FAI Farms, Oxford 1/4
Tell us about your farm - location, size, altitude, climate, soils, enterprises, organic/PfL/other status etc.?
In 2016 I found out about the PFLA and presented to our business that we should remove grain from our ruminant diets. This was met with a dubious look and a concern about growth rates but I got the ok to look at what we would need to change.
Our 1200 acre tenanted farm has been managed organically since 2001 but we were still using grain to finish our lambs and cattle inside. The first action was to reduce our sheep numbers to enable more out wintering of ewes and lambs and reduction of housing and feeding costs.
The next was to understand more about better grazing management.
We wanted to remove grain but we needed to find that energy and protein from somewhere!
We worked with James Daniel from Precision Grazing and actually this is something that McDonalds UK are also interested in and so James worked with three other farms too, helping us all to make better use of our grass.
In 2018 we grew so much more grass during the spring/summer we could see not only being able to remove grain but also to be able increase our stock numbers again.
Only problem was, we would need to invest in housing as our old buildings are not great for livestock housing for modern standards of ventilation etc.
I thought about this for a long time, I did some costings but something kept niggling me - how can the answer to us becoming more sustainable lie in more concrete?
So I started exploring out-wintering.
Everyone I asked about it told me that “it will never work on your farm”. It's too wet, low lying, wrong grass, not intensive enough to cover overheads...the list goes on. But then our farm team went to visit Rob Havard one day and everything changed.
The team described to me what they had seen, exactly what our farm looked like - wet, clay etc. I decided we would give out-wintering a go, a few animals for some of the winter.
We are in our third winter now and can categorically say our out-wintering fields which are only getting two grazes per year, have seen by far the best recovery when it comes to biodiversity.
We are lucky that we have some SSSI flood plain meadows within our hay making area and we roll out this hay for the cattle. As a result, the seeds appear to be colonising our tired permanent pasture.
We've gone from the odd small patch of birdsfoot trefoil to huge, waist-high patches of it.
When we had our Savory Institute Ecological Outcome Verification survey this summer, one of our out-winteing fields received the second highest score ever given by the assessor.