Friday, 11 November 2011

Regenerative Agriculture & Holistic Grazing Management

What has Regenerative Agriculture got to do with UK pasture based dairy farmers?
I think regenerative agricultural technologies have a lot to offer experienced pasture farmers who understand grazing management principles. I liken it to the best chefs who after having a classical training can go on and create the most amazing dishes. The same with classically trained singers & musicians, once they have mastered their craft they can go on to produce the most imaginative & creative music. So it is with grazing, soil, & water management….first you master the classical training then you use those skills to be creative. In this case it is to create topsoil & to control water & water flows on your farm. 
Regenerative agriculture is an opportunity to move beyond sustainability to become regenerative & to rebuild the biological capital on your farm. During the industrial agricultural revolution food production yields have raised, efficiency of yields has improved but at what cost to the environment & soil in particular soil carbon. Holistic grazing involves mixed pastures with many deep rooting species being grazed at much higher pasture covers. The concept is to feed both the cattle & the soil. 
So Who Are the Movers & Shakers?
In this new approach several American names stand out as leaders….Allan Savory,    Gary Zimmer, Abe Collins & ofcourse the very well known Joel Salatin.
Many YouTube clips give a very good idea of how Joel Salatin’s grazing operates & how he thinks.
Joel has become a writer of many best selling books with intriguing titles like “The Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Farmer”. How could you resist a book like that?

However its not really that new…..nothing is, is it? And it’s closer than I ever imagined. A Pasture to Profit Discussion group member on the Cotswolds is a direct descendant of the Scottish landowner Robert H Elliot, 1898, who created & wrote about his system of farming that involved laying down land to grass, using deep rooting pasture species & grazing cattle to rebuild the topsoil, to better use water & to increase the biodiversity.    Robert H Elliot’s book “The Clifton Park System of Farming” sets out his key principles.
In Australia, P A Yeomans during the 1930s developed a system of on farm water flow management & regeneration way before his time with a concept called “Keyline management”
Keyline systems are designed to move water about a farm landscape to get the maximum about of pasture growth. It’s an incredibly clever concept that is amazingly simply but highly effective. The key objective is to control water flow across your farm. The core essence is to enhance the agricultural landscape with trees & pasture being grazed by cattle.
What is central to all of the above agricultural innovators & their systems for enhancing the environment & rebuilding topsoil is that the grazing of pasture with cattle. Many current day environmentalists/climate warming spokespersons quite wrongly think cows & cattle are a problem to the environment NOT the solution.
This is fascinating stuff & quite challenging to much of what is practiced on low input pasture farms…..that’s why you are the most qualified to take up & implement either all of or most of the principles of holistic grazing management. If you are a non believer that’s fine “I’ve never learnt anything from someone who always agrees with me”.
If I have reservations myself it relates to how this thinking can be exploited in high rainfall areas…… it is being most successful in dry or even arid environments. The principles are however very important & universal. Several P2P group members are already experimenting & as with all pioneers (they are the guys with arrows in their backs in case you dont know how to spot them!)  it's not plane sailing but at least they are "having a go Mate!" which is fantastic for all of us. We need to focus on increasing soil carbon.
RegenAG are running courses in the UK with Darren Doherty from Australia & during 2012 there will be holistic grazing management workshops & Joel Salatin is coming over to run a 2 day workshop in either Nov or Dec 2012. You will need to register your interest now for that course.
This will be my last UK based blog for three years as I’m returning to NZ to take up a University post with the new “Centre of Excellence in Farm Business Management ” at Massey University. So the next blog will come from Palmerston North, NZ.
Current UK Pasture Measurements
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
North Wales, AFC 2111, growth 20 still VG grazing conditions
Shropshire, 1850, growth 30, cover increasing
Shropshire, 2000, 45 day round, 40% dried off
Herefordshire, 2150, gr 18, de 20, soil temps 12, Now OAD pulling plug on 22nd Nov.
Herefordshire, 2219, gr 22, de 16, cows in by night, grazed 65% of farm since 1st Oct.
Dorset, AFC 2003, growth 20
Devon, AFC 2400, growth 30
East Sussex Cows in, pasture still growing in mild temps, Could be a good early turnout Jan/Feb in South East.
Cornwall, AFC 2480, gr 36, de 39, Awesome year!!!
Northern Germany, AFC 1925, growth 7, last 10 days grazing its been a very decent year!
My thoughts are with our friends in the Breton Group in France as Odile is going thru a rough patch. Our best wishes are with Alain & Odile, who are amazing people & wonderful friends!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Grass-fed Rose Veau....What an Exciting Meat Experience!

What is Grassfed Rose Veau? 
This photo is of young dairy animals that have been reared on pasture & surrogate dairy cows.
I was fortunate this week to be present at the launch of this exciting new beef product which can be a byproduct from the pasture based dairy farms in the UK. Many influential people who would have been keen to be present sadly were not able to attend this low key launch.
Grassfed Rose Veau (pronounced Vo) is an opportunity for every pasture based dairy farmer in the UK. No farmer likes to dispose of male calves at birth. What a shameful waste of protein the world simply can not tolerate. In the UK we have a fantastic opportunity to take these animals thru to 7-8 months & produce a wonderful “low fat, high Omega 3” high quality meat.
People like the Soil Association have established rules that these male calves must be reared. The low input pasture based dairy farmers have a real opportunity to create a market niche that is clearly grassfed & healthy.

It’s seriously important that it is  GRASSFED for a number of reasons. Firstly it clearly distinguishes the meat from products like white veal & reassures the customer that it has been reared on healthy pastures in a very humane rearing system. Secondly the grassfed ensures a great ROSE colour (bright red pink) which is very important for retail presentation. Lastly the grassfed management ensures the high Omega 3 content which Bristol University has shown pertains to beef fed on pasture.
The word VEAU means young beef animal in French. This is also important as it clearly states that this is a young healthy animal so the meat will be tender.
So what are the on farm opportunities? Block calving spring or autumn provides a group of male calves all of the same age. This will simplify the management…we like that! Pasture based dairy farms have several milk sources…Nurse or Surrogate Cows, milk powder, colostrum or waste milk (must not have any antibiotics obviously).
East Staffordshire pasture based dairy farmer Rupert Major this year reared some calves on 600gm/day of milk powder plus some concentrate plus adlib access to fresh healthy pasture.
 At 7 months these had a carcase weight of 130kgs with an approx saleable meat yield of 50%. These were Jersey & Friesian cross calves. The Costs of rearing & butchering need to be carefully analysed so that we still aim for a good profit margin. This maybe difficult as it’s the milk feeding phase that is expensive…hence the use of waste milk, colostrum & using surrogate cows.
Other farmers have very successfully reared 2-3 calves per Surrogate mother using cows that are calving out of the block pattern. These cows do a Stirling job & stay on the farm another year. Both autumn & spring calving herds have been using Surrogate cows as rearers.
The butchering of this meat needs some experienced butchers who are aware of some of the French cuts such as Poire & Onglette.     .
It’s really important that this meat is sold with recipes & guides to a successful & tasty dish. Most British people are not used to this type of meat & will need some help to create great dishes. This is an interesting point as virtually everyone is familiar with cooking lamb which is prepared in a very similar way on farm. Some VEAU dishes can be seared using a very hot pan for a very quick cooking while others will be imaginatively prepared using slow cook techniques & mixing complex flavours of herbs & spices.
At Cowdray Farm Shop you can see that Grassfed Rose Veau can be a bright & exciting display in any retail outlet. What a great advertisement both for the farm & the Farm Shop at Cowdray.
Chef Jeff Thomas, at the Seasoned Cookery School run by Clare Tetley in the picturesque Peak District National Park, Derbyshire, has created a wonderful range of VEAU dishes including an old Staffordshire sausage recipe which he has found.
Sara a finalist in last years Masterchef program in the UK is a great fan of this meat & has created some exciting recipes too.
 Seasoned Cookery School runs excellent stylist one day courses for both beginners & experienced cooks. These courses include learning how to cook “Under Utilised Cuts” that include Grassfed Rose Veau.
Clare has gift vouchers on her website….an ideal present for your husband, wife, brother or girlfriend….book now!

The success of GRASSFED ROSE VEAU will depend on pasture based dairy farmers selling both the product & the new brand name. We need chefs & butchers to use their skills & imagination to create easily prepared dishes that discerning consumers will love to experiment with for their families. Restaurants need to get it onto the menus so customers get excited. 
This is an opportunity for farmers to grow, prepare, cook & feast on their own home grown healthy food.
We need to use every social media opportunity to each market this new brand of healthy meat to as wide an audience as possible. We need to talk this up as it’s a real opportunity for pasture based dairy farmers. 
Get used to the new brand name & use it at every opportunity with our butchers, family & friends.
Let’s get out there & sell GRASSFED ROSE VEAU.

I'm writing this having just finished a delicious "Grassfed Rose Veau" rolled brisket that was slow cooked as a pot so tender!

  Current UK Pasture Measurements
Growth rates dropping with shorter day lengths, soil temps still very good for this time of year.
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
North Wales AFC 2013, growth 40, demand 33
Shropshire, 1850, gr 20, de 12, at last some rain, soil temp 11.8
Shropshire, 2150, gr 17, heifers now dry, budget to close 1st Dec 1900
Hereford, 2200, gr 20, de 20, suppl 24, good rain very mild
Gloucestershire, 2394, gr 27, soil temp 13 at midday
SW Wales, 2400, gr 30, de 22, 1st calvers now dry
Somerset org, 2300, gr 25,
Dorset 2160, gr 30 feeding 2kg conc + 4kg silage OAD milking
Dorset 2050, gr 10kgs DM/ha/day
Dorset, 2360, gr 30, started feeding silage
East Sussex, 1900, gr 45, cows in fulltime soil temps 10
Cornwall, soil temp 12.5 at 10am
Cornwall, 2590, gr 45, de 38, getting wet
Devon org 2400, gr 32, cows in by night, 60 day rotation