Advice for young farmer on holistically managed farm - Devon, UK

MillLeat

Member
Mixed Farmer
I'd like to share our farm that my wife and I have recently purchased and our vision for it. We don't have experience in farming although I have worked for a co-op permaculture farm in Australia for a year (mainly bio-intensive market gardening) and as of the last 6 months getting my teeth into holistic management, thanks to Richard Perkins online course and anything that Savory and Salatin has written along with countless hours on youtube.

Our vision for the farm is one that focuses on triple bottom line. Social side is important to us as we'd like to become a connecting place for the community offering volunteer days (with a view of selecting and offering a profit sharing pay scheme to quality local volunteers) and educational days for under privilege young people. We will align ourselves with a local organisation once established. My wife wants to run a forest school in the woodland too.

Our farm is located in lowland Dartmoor and mid slope in a valley and south facing orientation. There is 900mm of average rainfall and the majority of it is between 9-13 degree of slope.

From the map of the farm you'll see red indicating pasture and green indicating scrub or woodland.

At this stage only 6ac are of high quality steep pasture (11 deg). 6.5ac is hilly scrub pasture of bracken and bramble and some pasture. 3.5ac field of thicket. 3ac of wetland pasture which doesn't often flood however is at risk too with the stream that runs the southern boundary of our property. There are small amounts of marsh sedge in this area and some boggy patches. Soil throughout is a fairly well draining loam apart from right next to the stream.

- We want to run a mobile hen enterprise with electric netting, perhaps 300-400 birds in an egg mobile from a converted caravan chassis yet need to be cautious on weight with max towing capacity of 900kg from JD Gator UTV.
- We'd like to have pigs turn over the bracken and bramble pastures with strip paddocks and grass finish them. Later reconsidering bringing them back in if good demand from customers.
- Dartmoor has a strong wool and lambing market for good reasons with the topography and history of sheep in the area.
- We'd prefer Dexter cattle over sheep due to niche direct to customer market but have concerns on stocking rate for such a small acreage even once pigs have cleared the thicket fields.
- Eventually in year two or three will start planting tree lanes on key lines for timber, fruit and nut. Perhaps for our own consumption or some sort of side enterprise once workforce is established.

I have concerns on a number of areas such as.

- Pigs being successful at turning over large areas of thickets.
- Whether wool and lambing are a better call over line breeding Dexters due to the hilly topography and small acreage. Are sheep more profitable of an enterprise over beef for small farms?
- Sales models. What has been the most successful for you? Direct to customer via website, butchers, restaurants, markets etc?
- Lastly, are we barking mad getting into livestock farming during these uncertain times with Brexit? This question will stoke a few fires...


I'd like to welcome thoughts from experienced from traditional farming backgrounds, those who have knowledge of livestock market and anyone who's had experience with HM on a small scale. Thanks a lot!

Screenshot 2019-12-04 at 13.20.55.png
 

MillLeat

Member
Mixed Farmer
Market your produce to the people who are willing to pay a good premium for your production methods, Mail order or travel to high end farmers markets, because I wouldn't think darmoor is the place to gain those premiums.
Thanks for your thoughts. We’re on the edge of Dartmoor and will market to three mid sized semi affluent towns, all of which have weekly markets.

Has anyone done direct sales over Facebook here?
 

MillLeat

Member
Mixed Farmer
There’s a first come first served initiative on FB in Sweden called REKO whereby customers reserve and pre pay for produce and then drop off produce at a pre determined drop off point. Saving labour costs by not having someone all day at markets. Not 100% but don’t think it’s been done in the UK.
 

Poorbuthappy

Member
Location
Devon
Welcome.
Exciting times!
Barking mad? Certainly. Join the club🤣

Pigs will clear just about anything up to small trees given enough grazing pressure. Fence them into small areas at a time and move them on when they've made sufficient impact. You will need to supplementary feed them to get maximum impact however.
Get them electric fence trained and they are useful tools!

Cows or sheep? Sheep probably easier handling, but I find cattle much easier to control behind an electric fence, and easier to get impact with mob grazing. Downside of cattle will be coping with Dartmoor winter rainfall on wet, steeper ground.
 

MillLeat

Member
Mixed Farmer
Welcome.
Exciting times!
Barking mad? Certainly. Join the club🤣

Pigs will clear just about anything up to small trees given enough grazing pressure. Fence them into small areas at a time and move them on when they've made sufficient impact. You will need to supplementary feed them to get maximum impact however.
Get them electric fence trained and they are useful tools!

Cows or sheep? Sheep probably easier handling, but I find cattle much easier to control behind an electric fence, and easier to get impact with mob grazing. Downside of cattle will be coping with Dartmoor winter rainfall on wet, steeper ground.
Thanks all for the various ideas.

We're looking to mob graze pigs in electric fence strips and move them through the bracken and bramble bit by bit. I'm not totally sure whether we'll breed them and keep them apart of the farm enterprise in the later years. We're still figuring out what's going to work as a longterm livestock enterprise on our hilly terrain, probably sheep.

It gets complicated when you're trying to work out the whole animals per acre ratio, especially when factoring in following hens in an egg mobile or poultry pens behind the ruminants. :scratchhead:
 
Location
Fife
Thanks all for the various ideas.

We're looking to mob graze pigs in electric fence strips and move them through the bracken and bramble bit by bit. I'm not totally sure whether we'll breed them and keep them apart of the farm enterprise in the later years. We're still figuring out what's going to work as a longterm livestock enterprise on our hilly terrain, probably sheep.

It gets complicated when you're trying to work out the whole animals per acre ratio, especially when factoring in following hens in an egg mobile or poultry pens behind the ruminants. :scratchhead:
I feel your pain, I'm wading through organic regs atm as we have a small beef herd but intend to add layers, broilers, pigs and maybe ducks this year! Figuring out how many animals per acre, nitrogen loading etc makes me want to cry.
 

MillLeat

Member
Mixed Farmer
The KISS acronym sticks in my head with any type of new business yet when reading Savory's books it all get's incredibly overwhelming with all the maths involved.

I'm searching high and wide for a small scale farmer who has quantified a multi species mob grazing system and laid out a formula that works, of course all location and climate dependent. Richard Perkins doesn't tend to discuss numbers when analysing animals per acre. Perhaps there is a book out there I haven't found yet that does.
 
The KISS acronym sticks in my head with any type of new business yet when reading Savory's books it all get's incredibly overwhelming with all the maths involved.

I'm searching high and wide for a small scale farmer who has quantified a multi species mob grazing system and laid out a formula that works, of course all location and climate dependent. Richard Perkins doesn't tend to discuss numbers when analysing animals per acre. Perhaps there is a book out there I haven't found yet that does.
It is generally a lot more simple once you get things going.
Different stock classes only compete if you make them compete, eg with sheep and cattle mixed - "the sheep eat for free" to an extent.
The more abundant your forage, the less competition and more symbiosis exists between species - diversity is largely crucial to successful outcomes.

We have a rubber-band ranch, that is we use high stocking rates seasonally and destock according to what the land says, similar rainfall to yours or a bit more on "average", here we have two main growing seasons per annum (spring, autumn) and the key is to then manipulate and store covers to extend these. So our stocking rates simply won't compare to a year-round stocking rate.

I'd assume 3 sheep per acre plus a dexter or two would be easily accomodated, we run about 4 lambs and a bull per acre "spread across 12 months"
The higher the stocking density, the bigger your solar panel, but also the greater the required time input.
 
Do hens need electric fence round them if your moving them regular?
Great question!
I don't believe they do "need" unless for predator protection of course; ideally they'd just trundle around behind the main mob where the food is?

If you plan grazing in a "lane", or 'linear migration', then they could be proper free-ranging so long as their coop is moved with them?

:scratchhead:🤔
 

Blaithin

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Alberta, Canada
Fencing would be more for predator aversion as well as keeping LGDs close (if using them). Some set ups also only use the fencing at night once the birds are in bed against those predators

My free range birds are also offered grain for their perusal which my cows know about and will take any chance to scoff down. Fencing helps dissuade them.

Not all chickens like to stay with the flock and near safety and coops. Some become quite the rangers which can put them at risk and can make eggs difficult to find (if they’re egg layers and not meaties) For those birds fencing also helps.

Lots of different methods and choices.
 
Inan ideal world 😆
We enjoy this, here; the main predator problem on most NZ farms is that the farmer doesn't always perform that function, enough.

Moving your livestock again is nearly always a more profitable use of your time&money than maintaining a vet/firefighter style operation because you didn't.

This afternoon I will mostly be pulling down good, permanent fences to make that "migration" flow easier in future.

You could "get away" with a variety of things here, but looking at it holistically I'm not sure there is a "best" recipe.
In a smaller scale permaculture operation the increased habitat could be better, or worse for predators
 

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