‘Meet a Mentor’

SE Programme Mentor: Andrew Lingham

Andrew Lingham, Court Farm Butchery, Rochester, Kent

Andrew runs a 320-hectare mixed farm, with 220 hectares of arable crops – including cereals, various beans, linseeds, millet and heritage wheat varieties – alongside his Pasture for Life Certified 30-40 strong herd of native breed store cattle and around 150 Romney store lambs.

For Andrew, this mixed, integrated system is key to his success. His animals offer a valuable additional revenue stream through his butcher’s shop, but perhaps more importantly, they play a crucial role in building soil organic matter and recycling nutrients. He has very little permanent pasture, and for the most part grazes his animals on cover crops, using a 60/40 rule. In his words, “you don’t let the animals graze down to the floorboards. Let them take 60%, and trample the remaining 40% back into the ground.” This approach, he says, is “far superior” compared to just using cover crops alone, and means the animals are “feeding themselves, feeding the soil, maintaining soil structure and increasing organic matter.” How long he leaves his animals on a crop depends on the conditions – in dry weather they will graze an area for around 3 days, but in wetter conditions it can be as little as 1-2 days to protect the ground from trampling.  

“We actually see our animals gain more weight over winter by grazing on our cover crops than we do in the summer off the permanent pasture”, he remarks, demonstrating just how drastically different farming can look compared to conventional systems based on feeding costly inputs to grazing animals over winter. “This is a pretty low-cost system, and by low cost I don't mean low output, it is truly working with nature. I know it's an old cliche that's fairly overused, but the further you get into this the more you can see that natural processes actually work if you don't interfere with them too much.”

Andrew has always been drawn to doing things differently and questioning the status quo – for example, he started treating his animals homoeopathically in the mid-90s. He now thinks he can bring that questioning mindset to his role as a mentor, for those who are also open-minded to new approaches and wanting to make some changes. “I don’t have all the answers, but I’m happy to be a sounding board and guide people through the approach. And I don’t like lecturing people, but if you’re interested and want to learn, I’ve learnt a hell of a lot and I want to pass this on.”

His approach is certainly working. “My veterinary bills are pretty much zero, and it’s been years since I used antibiotics. Our worming treatment is pretty much just rotational grazing, and the use of some diatomaceous earth and seaweed kelp,” he says, when asked about other ways this approach has benefited his farm. Andrew has particular interest in building both the gut microbiomes of his animals and microbiome of his soil, and speaks to the interconnectedness of the two. One way he does this is by brewing his own microbial treatment, full of beneficial bacteria and fungi for his animals, which is put in their water. This keeps their gut microbiomes healthy and stable, and further inoculates the soil through their waste; another example of his holistic approach having multiple benefits across the farm.   

Andrew talks with enthusiasm about how for him, every day is a learning day, grappling with new questions and challenges and thinking through how to approach them. This often sees him tapping into a global network of farmers who are also turning to nature-led, low-input systems. ‘It's so easy for the current generation to learn if they're interested. There is so much information available online. In mentoring I see myself as a bit of a guide towards people and resources who have been mentors for me, people across the world who you can tap into and who do actually respond. When they come back and answer some pertinent questions you have, you really feel that you are part of a global movement.”

Find out more how to become a mentor or mentee in the South East and North.