The success of an organic farm is measured by more than how much it produces; it also considers the social, economic and environmental impact of its farming system. Rob Havard of Phepson Farm has found that his holistic approach to raising an organic beef herd can create diverse grassland and a flourishing ecosystem capable of taking his fourth-generation Worcestershire farm into the future.
Following a decade as an ecologist, Rob returned to Phepson Farm in the Midlands – which his family has owned since 1919 – and decided to realign the farm’s processes to place the environment at the centre. The decision to do this was an easy one: “our approach allows us to ensure that the land, environment, people, and our bottom line all benefit from our farming. That is what gets us up in the morning.”
In addition to the family-owned farm, the Havard family now manage a tenancy at nearby Croome Court, a rural National Trust property. At the end of their initial three-year tenancy, they have been able to renew with permission to put the 370 acres into organic conversion, adding to the 50 acres of owned organic land they currently farm. As Rob says, “having always farmed in an ecological and wildlife-friendly way, converting to organic seemed like a natural step.” The mob-grazing method used by Rob means that the pastures at Croome Court will be supported by low-impact, organic farming.
Space to flourish
Mob-grazing is not a new technique, but neither is it a particularly common one. As Rob explains, it involves “high density grazing; so rather than putting 30 cattle in a big field for 30 days, you graze them in a much smaller space and move them every day or two”. It’s a method that’s designed to replicate the natural grazing of wild herds, which move together across large areas to find the best pasture. While Rob admits that this method – particularly in an organic system – requires much more management and work, the benefits are quickly realised, for both the cattle and the environment.
By moving the cattle around so often, the herd has access to clean grazing every day and a healthier diet. Additionally, thanks to the cattle occupying a smaller space at any one time, around 90% of the farm can either recover or flower, while also providing undisturbed land for wildlife and ground-nesting birds.
Rob has seen the improvement over the past years: “with mob-grazing, the small mammal population has gone through the roof, which has led to barn owls returning and the kestrel population improving”. Wildlife has even begun to synchronise with the pace of the farm. One kestrel, knowing that Rob will frequently move the cattle, follows him: “it knows that when I move the cows all the voles are going to start moving around. The kestrel drops down three, four, five times and then goes to sit in the tree and waits until I come back. The kids call it the fattest kestrel in Worcestershire!”
While Rob’s day-to-day experiences on the farm anecdotally suggest that local wildlife is flourishing, he has also set goals to ensure the future of the farm is not only sustainable, but that the profitability, fertility and wildlife resources improve every year.
Farming with nature
With the help of Triodos they’ve also taken on another 190 acres to start a pedigree Aberdeen Angus herd. This will provide the farm’s income with stability and predictability. “Starting the herd allows us to increase our income for what we sell. It also gives us more flexibility,” Rob says.
In the future, they’d like to connect the customer to their work even more and share the benefits that their holistic approach has for farming and food production. By looking after the land, Phepson Farm is able to look after the future.
See more of our organic farming customers
HAVARD & CO
The Havard family has farmed at Phepson Farm for four generations, since buying the farm in 1919. Nowadays, the farm is run with a strong emphasis on conservation and organic farming methods. In addition to Phepson Farm, the family manage 180 acres of National Trust land, on which they raise grassfed, organic beef cattle, using different low-impact farming techniques such as mob-grazing. They are part of a national wildlife-farming scheme and ensure the farm is managed to conserve and nurture the natural habitat.