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About Our Animals

We farm beef cattle, sheep and native breed pigs on rotational grazing systems.

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Cattle

We have been using Stabiliser bulls (based on Hereford, Angus, Simmental and Gelbvieh genetics) since the summer of 2015 with the first calves born in spring 2016. Stabilisers are bred for their meat quality and marbling and can finish on a grass based diet. Our cows were historically mixed breeds, but we are breeding towards a Stabiliser herd with a strong focus on a healthy, docile animal. We’re aiming for a smaller maternal cow that is easy to keep, eats less and utilises food well, this contributes to reducing our cow’s environmental footprint.

During 2020 we reared 24 dairy heifers as a lockdown project, they have formed our autumn calving herd at Silkenworthy. The infamous Minnie (the Minx, aka George’s cow) and Curly (Lily's cow) are both part of that herd.

The Stabiliser breed and carbon efficiency

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The UK (and global) beef industry is under huge pressure to reduce its carbon footprint, and rightly so. The strength of beef (and grass fed lamb and outdoor reared pork) is to turn grass, an inedible food source to humans and a huge part of the visual appeal of upland areas like Exmoor, into a nutritious, high quality protein for human consumption. There are more environmentally friendly ways to go about it, and the Stabiliser has been bred to reduce the carbon footprint of a beef farm by up to 31% compared to the UK average. The Stabiliser can be finished off grass, the mature cow size is smaller, they grow faster on grass, etc, all whilst maintaining a superior eating quality.

For more information about the breed and carbon efficiency see: https://stabiliser.co.uk/

Sheep

We farm Exmoor Mules, which is a native hill sheep (a cross between an Exmoor Horn and a Blue Leicester) and use Primera rams. Native hill sheep are good mothers, hardy, have lots of lambs and lots of milk to feed them with.

 

Alex’s own flock are Highlanders x Primera, these are both breeds he discovered in New Zealand. Primera are bred to be the best meat eating quality and that’s why we’ve chosen them for our rams. We also have a flock of Swaledale ewes, also native hill sheep.

In more recent years you might have seen a few spotty Jacob sheep with the main flock; the beginnings of George and Lily's flocks.

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Pigs

Pigs are a relatively new addition to the farm and we love having them. They’re such characters and are very friendly. We have had a variety of native breeds including Saddlebacks, Gloucester Old Spots, British Lops, and Oxford Sandy and Blacks (pictured here). Each breed has shown different characteristics and all of them have been a pleasure, some are more boisterous than others as they get older! Farming native breeds protects the heritage and genetics of the breed, it also means that they are slower growing and have a greater depth of meat flavour and texture.

 

We rotationally graze all of our pigs in small groups, providing them with grass and plants and the ability to root and show natural behaviour. We move them at least once a week so that they can’t damage the vegetation and soil, so nature can recover quickly and they get the benefit of plenty of green food, the meat quality is significantly better as a result. In winter we house them with plenty of silage, this protects the soil during the most vulnerable months.

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Rotational grazing

We have a ‘flerd’ - an actual technical term for a sheep flock and a cattle herd grazing together on a rotational grazing system. In basic terms, when rotational grazing, all of the animals graze together in one field and they are moved to another field every few days. It mimics natural animal grazing such as the migration of wildebeest or buffalo, and once upon a time the UK’s native grazing animals would have done the same. This is very different from other grazing systems where animals stay in several fields for an extended period of time, leading to reduced food quality, a build-up of disease, and no rest for the fields and soil.

 

Rotational grazing allows us to grow more grass, let the grass and soil rest, and give nature a chance to regenerate. It reduces disease burdens in the grasslands and allows sunlight to act as a purifier and disinfectant to the land. Cattle and sheep also have different pest and disease issues, which generally they can’t catch from each other, so grazing them together reduces the risk to each species and improves overall animal health. Plant species are given the chance to grow, flower and seed and to complete more of their life cycle which helps to increase plant biodiversity, sward structure and helps wildlife including pollinators. Cattle and sheep have different grazing habits, cattle rip grasses and sheep nibble them, cattle also like to eat longer swards, whereas sheep if left for too long to their own devices would become picky and eat the sward too close to the soil which doesn’t give it chance to grow and develop. Moving animals regularly protects soil structure by limiting damage from compaction and generally leaves plants with a longer root depth to help stabilise and feed the soil and soil microbes. In turn this helps with carbon capture and holding moisture in the soil which is helpful to mitigate the effects of drought and flooding.

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