Much that we crow about doing something new, Dad would tell me we are just farming like we used to….Farming has been in something of a vicious circle – intensification to produce cheaper food more quickly but this has come at great cost to our native bio-diversity, farmed animal welfare* and human health. It is a great responsibility to farm any animal for its meat and a responsibility we take to heart. Our aim is to farm a small number of animals, to give them as long and as close to a natural life as possible whilst allowing them to play their part helping to restore bio-diversity. On this basis alone do we feel in some way justified to eat their exceptional meat.
At Somerleyton we like to talk about a virtuous circle – very high standards of naturalistic animal welfare, eco-restorative farming systems which work happily together to produce meat of unrivalled taste and goodness. Our aim is to be awarded a WildEast Gold accreditation* for planet saving farming – The Estate is one of the founders of WildEast, a pioneering landscape scale recovery project with the aim of returning 20% of all land to nature by 2050.
‘Wild-Stock’ is the word we feel best describes the animals on our farm – and these break down into three main areas:
Fritton Lake Nature Reserve
This area is one of lowland Britain’s pioneering ‘re-wilding’ sites of 1000 acres or more as certificated by Rewilding Britain. We have removed 550 acres from the arable rotation around Fritton Lake, allowing it to ‘re-wild’ or recover its natural state. We have also removed rhododendron and dense tree cover to kick start native floral regeneration. To do this you need natures engineers – we chose Highland cattle for their robust nature, large black pigs, Exmoor ponies and Water Buffalo and soon we hope beavers. Together these engineers help to form a dynamic and evolving wood pasture. These animals are as close to wild as we can achieve in an ultra-extensive farming system and remain ‘wild for life’
Somerleyton Park is home to a closed herd of around thirty horned Welsh black cattle with two years of followers. These cows wean naturally, the mothers, gently pushing the older calf off when the new calf arrives as in nature. They roam 340 acres of organic, old and increasingly wild native grasses flowers and trees. From next year they will be able to browse through the old park woods as well as the developing scrub – in this way they can self-medicate on a wider palate of plants as close to in nature as possible.
These cows are not given any supplements or fed any grain so qualify for the pasture for life certification; the park is also home to Exmoor ponies, one or two large black pigs farrow here each year and the estate’s red and fallow deer are free to come and go as they please.
Regenerative Agriculture – Sheep and Cattle Rotation
One of the disciplines of regenerative agriculture is turning back the clock and rotating livestock across arable fields over winter. This is good for their welfare, they manure the soil to help create a good soil health and they graze on a blend of legumes which provide crucial late pollination for insects and therefore food for birds, fix goodness into the soil through their root system helping healthy soil microbiology, keep the field green when it might otherwise be a brown desert and provide a nutritious diet for the animals. This is truly a virtuous circle if ever there was one in farming. We try and always include some woodland within these rotations across our lighter land to ensure the animals always have natural browsing and shelter in harsh weather.
At Somerleyton we are fortunate our 'Wildstock' can graze on the Waveney river valley marshes all summer long. We have reduced the stocking density and grazing patterns to create a more varied mosaic grassland more suitable for ground nesting birds and we work we purposely keep them much wetter throughout the winter for until June for the same reason. For this regenerative farming system we have polled welsh black cattle and black welsh mountain sheep sometimes crossed with south down which produce an unrivalled taste.
Wild Deer & Wild Game
Somerleyton is a bit of a ‘nature sink’ with open fields to the east and the wide expanse of the Waveney river valley to the west neither of which offer much cover for Red Fallow or Roe deer. We monitor and cull small numbers from the various herds which call the estate home – all three offer highly nutritious and delicious alternatives to traditional farm animals and are a vital part of our restorative wild farming system. We cull Muntjack and Chinese water deer harder as they are so numerous but also offer undeniably good protein.
The estate retains a very small shoot made up of employees, local friends and families. We are fortunate our natural environment offers a great deal of feathered game without the need for a formal shoot, we do from time to time buy in extra game from like-minded local shoots if demand outstrips supply.