Based in the green fields on the Hertfordshire / Buckinghamshire border, Jonathon and Laura Chapman run their native English beef farm. They started with six cows and calves in 2011, and over the last nine years have carefully expanded their herd numbers whilst maintaining high welfare standards. They made the decision to keep the herd closed, meaning they only breed from carefully produced stock to ensure high standards of health and quality.
The LEADER programme has been able assist in funding the farm’s own butcher and cold storage area, meaning they can now process all the meat in-house. This ensures the quality of all their products, but also allows for their pricing to remain constant.
Sustainable livestock production combines a number of different practices to ensure the raising of animals is not only humane, but ensures better produce. These practices protect the environment through the protection of soil and the increase in carbon sequestration, with the aim to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases and create sustainable farming for the future. This is linked with the labour-intensive pasture farming the Chapmans practice. UK farming is one of the most sustainable farming practices in the world, with 85% of the water consumed by cattle and sheep being rainwater on the grass. These pastures also account for 70% of UK farmland and act as a giant greenhouse gas sink, the use of grazing animals encourages the growing of this grassland and therefore the carbon sequestration associated with it.
The Chapmans have also achieved their ‘Pasture for Life’ Certification, meaning their herd is fed 100% on pasture for all of its life. Jonathon and Laura are passionate about the benefits of ‘pasture fed for life’ for numerous reasons: it is better for your health than non-pasture fed beef, better for the cow, and better for the environment than cereal fed beef. In a recent study, it was found that there were lower total and saturated fat levels in pasture-fed animals. There is also higher omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals than in meat from grain-fed animals, and especially rich in vitamins A and E and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium.
This regenerative farming method allows holistic plant based grazing, which is better for the cow. Welfare of the animals is paramount to Jonathon and Laura and by feeding pasture for life they are following a species-appropriate diet. In the case of cows, this includes grass, herbs, clovers and other leafy matter which is found naturally, rather than a concentrated cereal or soya-based diet.
Better for the environmental than intensive farming, there is a lot to be said for a well-managed pasture, in fact, the landscape of Britain would look wholly different without the ages of agriculture. The fields are fundamental in the support of biodiversity, with British farming landscape providing many insects, birds and animals habitats and food. Since the 1930s, the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows (3 millions hectares, over 4 million football pitches), meaning we are losing a substantial amount of native insects, including butterflies, bees and beetles. Animal grazing and traditional farming (rotation methods) are needed in order to restore the wide array of animal and plant diversity. This also allows the promotion of soil health, encourages less water run-off and an increase in carbon capture.
In a further effort to reduce their plastic usage, the Chapmans have also purchased a silage clamp, a large covered pit in which the grass breaks down to form silage, to replace the majority of their haylage bales. This decision alone has reduced their plastic usage by 90% and has resulted in a 100% cost saving. Although it is a less flexible solution than bales, due to the fact that sileage has a lot shorter shelf life once opened than individual bales, the Chapman’s driving rational was finding ways to reduce the carbon footprint across the whole farm.
As a result of the farm’s success, the Chapman’s have now doubled their acreage, taking on 100 more hectares last year and increasing their cow herd from 60 to 100. They have also seen a rise in biodiversity on their land, stopped all blanket spraying and enabled the planting of two miles of new hedgerow.
These environmental benefits are not the only successes the Chapmans have seen as a result of the project; they have also seen an increase in employment on the farm, now employing 3 workers. There has also been an increase in sales directly from the farm, shortening the farm-to-table journey for consumers, ensuring quality and fair price. Consequently, the farm has also seen an increase in margin by cutting out the middleman, increasing their resilience to market fluctuation.
The biggest success of all is Jonathon and Laura’s constant strive for more sustainable farming.