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8th November 2020


Our reduction in soil tillage and therefore reduction of soil disturbance or movement, began about 25 years ago when we stopped using a plough to turn the soil on the farm’s arable land.  At that time, we invested in a Simba Freeflow drill followed by an Amazone Primera drill both of which required minimum or no tillage before planting the crops.

Terminology such as conservation tillage, no-till and zero-till generally describe seeding systems which cause the least amount of soil disturbance and retain the most soil coverage from previous crop residues.

In order to reduce soil disturbance still further across the farm we took delivery of a Hosch Avatar direct-drill last month.  

The drill has single discs which create a narrow soil opening or slit, causing minimal soil disturbance and planting seeds directly into stubble; these hydraulically adjustable coulters provide consistent seed depth and a closing wheel which gently closes the slit in which the seed has been placed.

Seed placement is more precise which should improve crop emergence when other elements such as moisture are correct when drilling.

The Horsch Avatar will reduce soil disturbance, eliminate erosion and help the soil retain water, rainfall and higher levels of nutrients, reducing the use of other machinery, soil compaction and fuel and reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Zero tillage drilling with the stubble retained after the previous harvest, helps to improve soil by increasing biological activity, soil structure and fertility and with less traffic and compaction of the soil, less labour, machinery and fuel per hectare the sustainability of the farm will improve further.

The purchase of the zero tillage direct drill has been grant aided by Rural Surrey LEADER and The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas.

4th October 2020

I am pleased to announce that Manor Farm Belted Galloway Beef has become ‘Pasture for Life’ certified.


The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association brings together British farmers committed to producing high quality food in a more natural way.

More meat and dairy products are being promoted as grass-fed.  However, until now the term has not been clearly defined and can be applied to virtually any farming system where grass forms just part of the animal’s diet.  Therefore, the Pasture-fed Livestock Association is pushing hard to establish a legal definition of grass-fed to mean 100% grass-fed for the entirety of the animal’s life.

 

Healthier benefits of Pasture fed beef

·        lower total fat levels

·        higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a lower, more balanced, healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3

·        higher vitamin and mineral levels than meat from grain-fed animals. Particularly rich in vitamins A and E, and minerals such as calcium and magnesium

·        higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which supports heart-health

 

The Wotton herd of Belted Galloway cattle are naturally reared on pasture in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). 

This native breed suckler herd comprises of cows, heifers and a bull.   The calves are born and bred on the farm and remain at their mother’s side for nine months feeding on their nutrient rich milk, as well as beginning to graze alongside the herd.

The Belted Galloways graze on herb-rich pasture and downland throughout their life and therefore grow at their own steady pace whilst undertaking important conservation grazing; they are not rushed with grains and soya in the way other more commercial breeds might be.   

It can be said that our pasture raised beef has its own unique ’terroir’, with our ‘Beltie’ beef full of flavour that reflects the qualities of the herbs and plants they eat and the soil beneath their feet. 

The Certification Standards ensure that animals must be able to eat a natural diet, to graze pastures when the grass is growing and can be given conserved pasture in the form of hay and haylage, with just a few other agreed forms of forage such as home produced beet. Belted Galloways are a sturdy breed, used to out wintering in the Highlands and converting what would be classed as ‘poorer’ grassland into well marbled beef, so they are well suited to the conservation grazing they undertake on the North Downs helping to maintain that rare habitat with its unique flora and fauna. 

The Belted Galloways turn grass and pastures that we cannot eat, into well flavoured dry-aged beef that we can eat.

19th August 2020

Our arable harvest 2020 drew to completion on 13th August, more swiftly than most years due to the reduced acreage sown last Autumn and the very dry weather we’ve experienced until just a couple of days ago.  One advantage has been not requiring the grain drier this year; with the associated time and costs involved.

Harvesting Elicit wheat on Whitedown

To re-cap, at the end of harvest last year, two thirds of the arable land was sown with oilseed rape and wheat, however the remaining third was not sown due to the deluge of rain which began on 23rd September and barely let-up throughout winter.  It wasn’t possible to access the fields and would have caused too much soil damage to even attempt it.

When the ground began to dry up this spring, it was just possible to drill 110 acres with spring barley and the remaining fields were left fallow.

We began this year’s harvest with 170 acres of oilseed rape which had an average yield, moving onto approximately 500 acres winter wheat and then the spring barley.

Spring barley during June

There were three varieties of milling wheat; Zyatt, Elicit and Firefly.  The yields were down by as much as 50% on the lighter land and at best were an average yield.  The cost of growing some of this crop was greater than the price received for the grain.

The combine harvester’s unloading pipe augers the grain into the trailer

It’s been about 20 years since we last grew spring barley and it has done quite well on the chalky, heavier soil; yielding 3 tonne an acre, some of which has been sold forward.

Harvesting the spring barley on 10th August

Despite the barley stems being a little green, it harvested without difficulty and the straw soon dried out in the blazing sunshine ready for baling.  The grain was perfectly dry and was safely in the grain store before the rain arrived.

There were a few minor break-downs as would be expected during harvest when machinery and staff are working from 8am until 2am.

Due to the reduced acreage being harvested, plus the lower yields, this has resulted in half the number of straw bales produced. 

A proportion of the bales are sold off-farm and the remainder are utilised for bedding-up the Friesian x cattle overwinter or for Belted Galloway calving.

Another cash crop we grow is fodder beet, which is sown in March and harvested mainly between November and the following March, however it lasts well in the ground and we have continued to harvest this crop through the summer, as when we have an order. 

We’ve had predominantly drought conditions since March with little or no grass available on many farms, therefore the fodder has been much in demand. With plenty to go around, we’ve also been supplying an Anaerobic digestion system in Surrey which takes food waste from restaurants in Surrey and London and recovers energy in the form of biogas, electricity and digestate.  With restaurants closed during the Covid-19 pandemic and now only working to a lower capacity, the fodder beet has provided a consistent feedstock to keep the anaerobic digester functioning.

The digestate is an organic fertiliser which is returned to many farms around Surrey where it improves soil quality, aids water retention and avoids the use of artificial fertilisers.

16th July 2020

During the Covid-19 lockdown we’ve continued farming; with staff and family ensuring that all necessary livestock and field work has been carried out and the ever-present paperwork undertaken, including registration of calves born and cattle movements logged off the farm.  Whatever the Covid19 daily briefings on the radio or television, we had a job to do and it was as if the news was eventually catching up with reality, especially when we heard that yes indeed; food production and farming is essential work!

The food that we grow, needs care and attention whatever is happening around the World and we all need to eat.

I found the first three months were rather blur, not knowing which day of the week it was and not really noticing Easter come or go.  The roads were quieter at that time and we had key-worker licences to carry and display, just in case we were stopped. 

We maintained physical distancing for team meetings and no one other than staff was permitted to enter any of the farmyards for deliveries or collection without prior notification.   Any essential meetings with people outside our household; moved on-line.

Our Covid19 protocol became the norm; self-awareness, hand washing, disinfecting tractor cabs, opening gates with an elbow where possible or wearing gloves. Each vehicle having one dedicated driver and the only passenger allowed to share a truck has been from our own household.  As the months have passed, it feels as though we’ve done what we can to safeguard our families and each other and from the beginning; we created our own working bubble before it became guidance or an instruction from the government.

Calving was completed on the day I last wrote!  Wotton Elsa was born to Wotton Ellen and sired by Barwise Mister M.

The Belted Galloway cows and calves were moved to fields without footpaths, with plenty of space for grazing and natural shelter alongside hedgerows and under trees.  They have experienced mixed weather and have needed to shelter from both rain and sunshine at times.

Whilst we can ensure the young calves are in a field without a path, unfortunately it’s common to see dogs from an adjacent footpath, being allowed to run through the fence-line and into the livestock fields, sometimes back and forth as if it were a game.

We realise that not everyone will understand how significant even a one-off deviation from the public path could be.  For example, if a dog ‘simply’ runs into a field to have a poop, the owner cannot reach into the field to clear up after the dog, even if they wanted to.

Doggy deviations have caused issues of livestock worrying in the past with sheep being maimed and killed and cattle being chased and bitten by dogs.

Also there have been a number of cows contracting Caninum Neospora from dog faeces which is picked up by the cattle as they graze, resulting in some cows aborting their calf: often at about 7 months gestation or as a still birth, both of which are quite distressing for the cow and for us.   However, that isn’t the end of the issue, because the cow is now a carrier and therefore should be removed from the breeding herd if the farmer is aware of the situation.  However, if the cow did manage to successfully carry her calf full term and it was a heifer calf, the disease would be transmitted vertically to the heifer, who would join the breeding group a couple of years later, carrying the disease herself, unbeknown to the farmer. The disease can remain masked within a herd until miscarriages or still births occur.

There is no cure and no prevention other than dog owners keeping their pets under close control in the countryside and poop-scooping after their dog in all fields, as these areas of grassland are where our food is produced.

We have two pedigree bulls to ensure that neither of them serves their own daughters. Our small herd of native breed cattle is divided between the two bulls, Ethelred and Mister M.


In April our vet undertook the bull fertility tests here on the farm.  It’s essential for the vet to visit the farm to check the health of the bulls and ensure they are fit and well for the next season of breeding.

We had the bulls ready in the cattle crush for when the vet arrived and then maintained a safe distance (the length of a cow) between us throughout his visit.

Until now, Ethelred had passed every test and produced some wonderful calves over the past eight years. But the winter seemed to age Ethelred, he wasn’t holding his condition quite so well and finally he failed his fertility test.   So, it was a very sad day that Ethelred left the farm for the last time in April.

The bulls are tested approximately six weeks before they’re due to serve the cows and heifers, in order to ensure that they are fit and fertile for working. However, if they’re found to be infertile it usually provides enough time to buy a replacement bull. 

Due to Covid19 restrictions, a number of Belted Galloway sales were cancelled across the UK and farmers took to social media to advertise their livestock.  Agriculture and food production are classed as Key Work and the life cycle of stock must continue, therefore some farmers managed to visit farms to view livestock if there was plenty of choice in their part of the country, whilst others relied on viewing stock via on-line video links.

I made a few inquiries and saw some fine looking bulls on-line, but they were either a little older than we required or were being viewed by more local people and snapped up quickly.

However, after weighing the options, I decided to keep Mister M for some of the girls and hire Hamish, our neighbour’s Belted Galloway bull to serve Mister M’s daughters.  We haven’t hired a bull for many years due to a previous hire bull which had a fertility problem. 

Therefore, just to be on the safe-side, I booked a fertility test and health check for Hamish and once he had the all clear, he joined the other girls here on the farm.

Here is Mister M arriving at the Cressbeds in mid-May.

After spending the past nine weeks working, Mister M and Hamish were removed from their bulling groups today.

Mister M has returned to fields in Abinger where he will spend summer grazing with four in-calf cows and Hamish has taken the short trailer-ride back to his home farm. 

Fodder beet lifting and sales off farm have continued through spring and early summer. This may be later than most farmers are lifting, but we still had some crop in the ground and farmers are finding it a useful supplementary feed for their livestock, particularly where the grass is drought stricken.

Miles of fence repairs have been undertaken during lockdown; it’s one of those jobs where there’s always more to do. But with a concerted effort from various team members and lockdown family joining in (maybe even some father and son bonding?!) over many weeks, much has been achieved.

Tomorrow at 5am Laurence will drive the combine harvester over to Shalford before the roads get busy.  He'll begin our combinable crops harvest of 2020 by harvesting 200 acres of oilseed rape during the next couple of days.

5th April 2020

When I established this website in 2007, I would update this news page at least once a month with latest happenings on the farm.  Now I am busier than ever with the Belted Galloways and selling ‘Beltie’ beef, getting involved in the promotion of British farming and local produce via social media as well as a few diversification projects which have filled any spare time we may have had. 

Somehow, we seem to be busier than ever, so I was determined this year to spend more time with family and to plan some new adventures that I might undertake before I get too old!!

But as ever, life has taken its own pre-determined course. And here we are in April 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with all but essential workers in the UK advised to stay at home and stay safe; to help to ‘flatten the curve’ of the spread of this virus.

I posted a video on Twitter recently; a ‘thank you’ to all front line NHS staff, care workers and emergency services and a little about how farmers are continuing their essential work caring for animals and crops, to produce safe, nutritious and sustainable British food for us all to eat #FoodArmy #FeedTheNation

The food chain is having to adapt very quickly; whereby food was previously being grown for restaurants, schools, Universities, museums etc and supplied in large quantities; these are no longer required. However, with families staying at home, much more food will now be home-cooked and everything from flour to meat or eggs, which would have been packaged in large quantities for thousands of food outlets, is now having to be redirected and packaged in smaller quantities to be sold in supermarkets.  There’s some fantastic, creative work going on behind the scenes across all parts of the food chain, to ensure these huge logistical changes are happening in a very short space of time.

However, since I drafted that last paragraph earlier in the week, things are changing swiftly and I suspect some elements of the big buying power of supermarkets, may already be to the detriment of long-term food security and improved self-sufficiency within the UK.

Farmers like ourselves produce beef to high standards of welfare and this goes hand in hand with environmental work across farms up and down the country. 

We were due to sell a group of beef animals from the Friesian x herd as part of the normal cycle of production and to specifications which are set by the abattoir.  We’ve now been told that they’ll be taking less cattle even though the finished stock has reached the requested conformation or grading, and which just last week they had wanted to buy.

We then heard yesterday that one buyer is supplying cheaper imported Polish beef for two of the big supermarkets and they appear to already be following the money and looking for profits rather than buying the British beef that is ready on many farms and has been produced to their specification.

Farmers will continue to tend the crops in the fields and the livestock they care for, working towards what I hope will be a sustainable and more self-sufficient provision of UK food with a more ‘bottom up’ rather than ‘top down’ approach to food and farming in the future.

We put strict COVID19 safeguarding measures in place a few weeks ago, our team now only drive specific vehicles including tractors, trucks and tele-handlers. There is one driver per vehicle and no passengers unless from the same household. 

Morning team meeting following physical distancing guidelines during COVID19.

In a normal week, as many as five of our staff could have driven the two tele-handlers on a variety of jobs such as loading fodder beet onto trailers or lorries for deliveries off the farm, lifting fertiliser into the spreader or bedding up the calving barns.

In a COVID19 week, each of the tele-handlers now has its own dedicated driver.  Those two drivers have their own work to complete, as well as the extra tele-handler jobs that other members of the team used to undertake.  We try to share the other jobs such as cattle checking and fence repairs to share the work-load. 

This spring we had a smaller number of Belted Galloways to calve and planned to have a further eleven due in the Autumn.

The calving barns are bedded up with fresh straw and calving is in a safe, dry environment with higher biosecurity than the busy footpaths and fields around here can provide.  The cows are given vitamins and minerals and hay to eat. We’ve found it’s important that the dams don’t get too fat as this causes calving problems.   

Calving is almost over, with just one more to arrive.  Everything has gone smoothly except for two cows who didn’t calve when due; so, these were checked by the vet last week and as suspected have slipped their calves at some stage since the pregnancy test in August last year.  Blood samples have been taken from those two which might give us some explanation for why they miscarried.

Wotton Lady Ann had her calf about a month early; a perfect little heifer named Mary but very quiet for the first few weeks, sleeping in the soft hay beneath the hay rack in between feeds. 

We turned most of the cows and calves out to grass last week.  Ethelred’s group are grazing Upper and Lower Park (Ellix Wood) and Thorn Grove and Mister M’s family are grazing in the fields we call ‘Cressbeds’.

It’s great to have the cows back onto grass now; turning grass into nutritious milk for the calves who will stay with their mothers for about nine months, but will soon also begin to graze, as they gradually eat more grass and drink less milk over the coming months. 

The Surrey Hills Business Park is a diversification project on the farm which helps us to continue to farm and to undertake Higher Level Stewardship across a large area of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). 

One tenant of the business park is Brooks Life Sciences, who bought out 4Titude two years ago. Brooks Life Science products are now directly focused in support of vaccine discovery and medical science to accelerate the global response and cure to the COVID-19 virus.  There are many bio-science businesses adapting their production lines, and Brooks Life Sciences which is already internationally renowned, has stepped up to help with this vital global challenge.

Due to a very wet Autumn we couldn’t get out onto a third of the land that we’d intended to sow with winter wheat and as the ground has only dried up enough in the past three weeks, this has meant a change of plan; 100 acres will be left fallow, 100 will be drilled with maize and 112 acres will be spring barley.

Another 25 acres of fairly poor land that would have gone into winter wheat, has instead been drilled with spring barley, peas and grass. If successful, the barley and peas will be harvested in August and made into silage for the Belted Galloways and the grass will be grazed from next spring or possibly this Autumn depending on how well it’s established.

Once the ground was dry enough, digestate was spread in the fields from an anaerobic digestion system.  Following on from this organic fertiliser, Edd drives the Xerion tractor and Horsch cultivator which undertakes minimum tillage before the crops are sown.

David uses the Amazon drill to sow the barley and peas about 1.5” deep and the grass seed just within the top surface of soil.

This year’s crops include 200 acres of Oil seed rape, drilled at Shalford in August last year and 600 acres of winter wheat which we managed to drill before the extreme wet weather moved in; this will be harvested in July in fields at Cranleigh, Wotton, Abinger and Gomshall.

110 acres of Spring barley for malting, was sown last week in our heavier soils at Park Farm, Coomb farm and Whitedown and will be harvested in August.

When the soil temperature warms up in April or May, 250 acres of maize will be drilled.

 

17th March 2020

Last night we listened to the first of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s daily briefings, which gave new guidance for businesses and individuals in order to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

Laurence spoke with our team this morning to explain the measures we will put in place on the farm as of today, but with view to adjusting these as and when necessary.

We want to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading to or within our team and amongst our families, therefore all face to face meetings on site have been cancelled or postponed for the foreseeable future.

Fodder beet is still for sale because we are able to load lorries and trailers without close interaction between drivers. Fodder beet orders are being taken on this number: 07774 275930 

We can also receive farm deliveries whilst keeping a safe distance from drivers.

9th February 2020

Since bringing the Belted Galloways back from their conservation grazing on the North Downs, it’s been a time for managing the herd, weaning, foot trimming, sorting the groups and moving to winter grazing.

The Belted Galloway suckler herd is grass fed all year round, with extra grass-based fodder as required during winter or at calving. You may see our Belties in the fields around Wotton, Abinger, Shere and Gomshall as well as on the North Downs from approximately April until late Autumn or winter depending on the ground conditions.

This is Ethelred’s group of in-calf cows, currently grazing with the North Downs in the distance behind them.

The two groups of in-calf cows will come in from the fields next week and will be housed in barns during calving to ensure better biosecurity and safe handling.  The barns are bedded up with straw from last year’s harvest and the cows will have sweet smelling, home grown hay or haylage to eat.

We have cameras in the calving barns to keep an eye on the cows, even when we are working elsewhere on the farm.

The bulls, Carsluith Ethelred and Barwise Mister M are currently out, running with a few heifers. The heifers will be pregnancy tested in April and hopefully will be due to calve in Autumn. 

Arable field work has been limited due to a fairly wet Autumn and winter thus far.

Following on from last year’s harvest, we’ve managed to drill 600 acres of milling wheat; Elicit, Zyatt and Firefly.  Firefly is a new variety for us this year.

We hope that the ground conditions will improve in the next two weeks so that the remaining 300 acres can be drilled with winter wheat.  However, if not, much of that area will remain as fallow which will result in a third less potential income from wheat in 2020.

This wheat is emerging at Park Farm.  The ground is quite stony with lumps of iron stone. This field grew oil seed rape last year.

It’s not good practice to grow the same crop in the same field every year, therefore different crop types are rotated around the fields.  We need to grow crops that will survive and thrive in these grade three soils and which are viable for the business, therefore a field which grew wheat last year, could be growing oil seed rape this year and fodder beet in 2021.

Fodder beet grows well on the sandier soils and currently forms part of the crop rotation. We harvest the fodder beet between September and March and the beet remains fresh whilst still in the soil.   The fodder beet is sold to farmers and smallholders across the south east, as winter rations for sheep, pigs, horses, farmed deer, dairy and beef cattle. Inquiries can be made to: 07774 275930

The majority of maize grown on the farm was harvested in October by contractors with a forage harvester.  The entire plant is cut, chopped and carted to a silage clamp, which is a level area with two or three walls.


The chopped maize is tipped into the clamp area, compressed by a tele-handler or tractor to expel oxygen and covered in sheeting.  Natural fermentation of the ensiled maize in anaerobic conditions, preserves the forage until winter, when it is either sold or fed to our Friesian x cattle.

7th January 2020

I am happy to say that the photos have returned to this page!  I'm off out now to move some Belted Galloway heifers, so watch this space for some January news coming soon!

4th January 2020

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous New Year!

Unfortunately due to a major problem at Photobucket, the photographic hosting platform I use for the Latest News page, all the photos on this page have disappeared.  The problem began on 8th December 2019 but they haven’t provided contact or support thus far.  I hope they resolve the issue very soon so that my photos are available to view again.

13th November 2019

We began to 'bring home' our Belted Galloway herd which graze the North Downs each year, between April and about November or December.  The cattle have been undertaking important conservation grazing on this rare chalk downland habitat as part of our Higher Level Stewardship Scheme during the past ten years.  For the remainder of the year the cattle may be seen in the fields around Wotton, Shere, Albury and Abinger.

The Beltie cows and calves are gathered from the fields to a local barn and from here they are loaded onto the cattle trailer and taken back to the farm.

In August the ‘Beltie’ cows and heifers were pregnancy tested and have remained grazing local pasture with their calves ‘at foot’.  However, for these two groups with calves at foot, we avoid fields with any public paths so that the suckler herd is not disturbed.  This is quite restrictive because the majority of fields in this area do have some form of public right of way dissecting them.

Mister M’s group have been grazing behind the Kingfisher Farm Shop, in the field we call ‘Cressbeds’ and they have been alternating with the fields south of Abinger Hall,  whilst Ethelred’s group have been in the fields around Raikes Farm.

The calves have been naturally weaning themselves over the past nine months as they gradually increased the amount of grass they ate whilst reducing the quantity of milk suckled from their mothers.

This week the cows and calves have been sorted out and final weaning has taken place.  Ears have been trimmed so that we can read the ear tags even at a distance and any missing tags were replaced. 

The in-calf cows will go back out to the fields during the winter and will have access to additional hay if needed.  Their weaned calves will stay together in a group over winter and for much of the next two years.

The bulls; Carsluith Ethelred and Barwise Mister M have been taking it easy for a while back at the farm, but in December they will run with a few of the girls that were scanned as not-in-calf (NIC) during the summer.

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