My husband Gavin and I are two young-ish new entrants to farming who are taking our first steps into regenerative land management with a tiny fold of Highland cows, alongside our full-time jobs.
In 2020, we purchased two cows with calves at foot. This year four cows have gone to the bull and the fold numbers 16 in total.
We are renting 31 acres on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds, above beautiful Bishop Wilton, and we feel like ‘The Lonsdale Highlands’ is finally taking off.
Finding a new path
When we left the Royal Navy nearly a decade ago, we went travelling to demilitarise, including spending a couple of years working on various Australian farms.
We were particularly inspired by Working With Nature in Guyra, New South Wales, who were ahead of the curve in using grazing management and pastured poultry to regenerate their soils.
Through this experience, we formed our ideas on how we would, and wouldn’t, like to manage land.
Ever since, we have been slowly building up the knowledge and practical skills to keep happy, healthy, outdoor animals in a way that improves the soil over time.
We want our landscape to be resilient, natural and biodiverse, with soils buzzing with beneficial microbes, so the whole ecosystem produces vigorous plants, robust animals and naturally delicious, nutrient-dense beef.
To continue this process, we applied for a bursary from the Future Farmers of Yorkshire to attend the regenerative agriculture festival, Groundswell in Hertfordshire in June, primarily so we could mix with and learn from other farmers who have a similar perspective on why and how to farm.
What an inspirational two days.
A brilliant experience
The atmosphere at Groundswell was one of sharing knowledge, including things that have been tried and not gone so well, which is quite unusual and what made it so useful and enjoyable.
There were around 6,500 people at the event and there were lectures simultaneously running in about seven different locations; making it incredibly hard to choose where to be, interspersed with chats at stalls and discussions over a beer.
I was worried the event would be too focused on arable regenerative methods but there was plenty to get stuck into regarding livestock and lots of soil biology sessions that were applicable to both.
Discussions about bale grazing, how farming affects human health, direct meat sales, functional fertility in grass-fed cattle and Pasture For Life certification were just some of the highlights.
There appeared to be some concern at Groundswell that regenerative farming is being colonised by a prescriptive, conventional-style mindset and it was debated whether the concept should be officially certified to avoid the language being used for greenwashing.
However, farmers and landowners are a particularly curious, practical, and intelligent set of people with a huge incentive to get their soil management right, so we should trust them more.
Seeing the enthusiasm for regenerative approaches and methods of farming was an uplifting experience. We are excited to experiment with some of the new ideas we discovered and see if they work on our land.
We will be making adjustments to how we farm as a direct result of our visit and are very grateful to Future Farmers of Yorkshire for the opportunity to attend via their bursary scheme.