It was a very pleasant day to be shown around Romshed Farm, 175 acres of land used to raise mutton, hogget, lamb, cattle, pigs, chickens, eggs and ducks under organic principles with sections of ancient woodland, which are home to wood mice.
The visit was organised by The Soil Association and Lisa Jones, Head of Supporter Development was our cheerful coordinator. Fidelity Weston, the farms owner, showed us around.
I knew something of the organic principles for managing the land such as planting clover to improve the nitrogen content but I did not realise how extensive the efforts are to keep organically grown animals free of chemicals and stress in order to produce an ethically sound, superior tasting product. But most impressive of all and the reason I shall be buying mainly organic meat from now on was the quality of life the animals live which could be clearly seen in their healthy condition and content, happy demeanour. Coupled with regulated, high level countryside stewardship the farm is a rich haven for wildlife and flora.
Rohmsted Farm is an approved supplier under the Pasture Fed Livestock Association rules which means their meat is available only to a seasonal calendar. To get the best out of the land and its location native breeds are selected.
Standard farming practices use antibiotics and pharmaceuticals on a regular basis. With organic farming there is a lot of planning and careful management to try and avoid these chemicals. For example livestock are moved around the farm to break the cycle of infection by parasitic worms rather than using worming compounds.
First we headed towards a field sown with clover where Saddleback pigs were happily grazing. A low electronic fence contained the pigs in sections of the field. Once the pigs graze all the vegetation the fence is moved so that the pigs have new food and do not grub up the naked soil. I have never seen pigs with so much space and on such healthy grazing and it was a real pleasure to see the happy piglets chasing each other around like a bunch of puppies!
The pigs need extra protein to bring them up to a decent stature which is supplied by soya. But Fidelity has concerns over the sustainable nature of the imported soya so the family is searching for a cost effective alternative such as sunflower seeds.
We made our way across fields rich in diverse flora and brown meadow butterflies, listening to the skylarks, until we reached the chicken pens. The farm nurtures both laying hens and table hens. I immediately noticed how thick the legs were of the chickens which was due to the amount of time they can spend in the open, scratching and running around. In an intensive chicken farm table hens have a lifespan of little more than 30 days. At Romshed it is 120 days. On an organic farm chickens have more space than that specified for free range chicken farms.
We moved on to see sheep and cattle all of which looked healthy and content. One Hereford calve was curious enough to come to the fence to investigate the visitors and pose for our cameras.
The farm has areas of woodland that are home to wood mice. In order to support the wood mice population the farm is planting hedgerows to link the woodland areas, using native species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, oak, briar, etc. At times the family fell trees to supply the wood burning stoves . If the felling leaves gaps between the trees a walkway created from rope, branches and twigs is slung between the trees so the wood mice are not hampered in their travels.
Hedgerows are cut biannually, late in the year, so as not to destroy berries and nuts needed by the wildlife.
As we returned to the farmhouse we walked through a meadow with a diverse mixture of wild flowers that had been planted from seed taken from an established wild flower meadow in Sussex with similar clay soils. Back at the farm we were treated to tea and biscuits and had a good chat about the farm and other green issues.
It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon and now I have seen how much better is the life of an animal raised on an organic farm I will be buying much more organic produce.
The photo to the left shows a wide margin between the crop of triticale and the hedgerow. This provides a good environment for voles and mice which in turn provides food for predators such as owls who perch and nest in the hedgerows.
The oak tree to the right has several unusual uprights. It used to be that the villagers had the right to remove wood from the hedgerows and as a result the tree was regularly pollarded. They lost this right many years ago so now the tree has grown many upright limbs.