Matt Dowen and Eric Walters, Good Small Farms, Gloucestershire 2/3
How is it connected across the farm and beyond?
While we have many healthy hedges, there is always room for more trees in the landscape! Over the last 2 years we have planted more than 10,000 trees. Some of these are productive trees (50 walnut, plum and pear, 100 apple and 450 cob) but most have been planted for their ecosystem benefits. We have added over 500 m of new hedges which break up some of our larger fields, help to reduce run off, provide shelter to the cattle in the winter and, perhaps more importantly, provide shade for them in the summer. Once the hedges are big enough, they will add diversity to the cows’ diets, as we see from our existing hedges.
We are also planting tree clusters as a way of incorporating more trees in fields (as opposed to only on the periphery). These are a combination of oaks surrounded by thorns to reduce the risk of deer browsing. They will also provide the same shade / shelter / forage for the cows once mature.
What are the benefits to the farm and is it increasing its climate and business resilience? If so, in what way?
Our Pasture for Life livestock operation is largely independent of external inputs. Almost all our risk is managed within our pastures on the farm. We had been hiring a bull in from a neighbouring farm but have recently decided that we will have our own bull. Our permanent pastures with diverse swards add to the resilience of the meat box enterprise; not solely relying on, for example, a rye and clover mix to perform well and produce in times of extreme weather conditions.
We decided to outwinter our animals as we have land that can sustain the herd in the winter and breeds that are happy to be outside year long. We don’t need barn space to house them or to make as much hay to feed them. The disadvantage of this approach, from the market garden’s perspective, is that we have no muck for them come spring!
At the farm level, the livestock enterprise is one of 5 which itself lends to the farm being more resilient. It also means that we can develop relationships with customers across lots of different products. We have a stall at Stroud Market and, while we primarily sell vegetables there, it is also an opportunity for us to talk about our meat boxes as well as our fruits and nuts.