Woodland Valley Farm is a 170-acre organic dairy farm situated in mid-Cornwall in a secluded valley, incorporating 26 acres of woodland, streams, ponds and wetland.
We now have a herd of 60 Jersey-cross dairy cattle which feed on grasses from herb-rich pastures with silage and hay during the winter. We practice rotational grazing – the cattle eat everything, including ‘weeds’ and are encouraged to browse hedges. Herb planted amongst the grasses allows them to self-medicate and means we rarely intervene with antibiotics and supplements.
We calve in May and June and outdoors where possible which reduces the risk of infection for new-borns and calves are suckled for 6 weeks before weaning.
My family moved here in 1960. I was lucky enough after dad died to take over the farm with my mum (dad had been a dairy farmer), and now run the farm with my wife Janet. We built up a suckler herd (had about 90 suckler cows by 1995), then in 1996 with the outbreak of BSE, we went from what was about £100,000 worth of livestock to something that functionally was worth nothing. We cut the herd down and put the farm down to mostly long-term leys, a little arable, and went down the organic route (the farm has been organic since 2002). As we became more climate change aware we felt that we needed to try and find out what the farm was doing.
We had a carbon audit done and were horrified to find out we were omitting about 300 tonnes of carbon a year. Due to wanting to reduce our massive carbon footprint, we stopped ploughing and have minimised our use of non-renewable resources. We stopped growing any arable crops and went from emitting 300+ tonnes a year to having a net sequestration of about 350 tonnes. It didn’t cost us a lot in productivity and probably saved money as well. We started sowing better grass leys that could enhance the soil and our livestock’s diet; containing varieties such as rye, timothy, cocksfoot, clovers, chicory, yarrow, plantain, and salad burnett (see the video ‘Herbal leys, intensive rotational grazing and the world according to Chris Jones’ below).
We realised that we should be thinking about a farm not just in terms of growing food as it has a whole lot of other roles as well; it’s got to provide oxygen, soak up carbon dioxide, enhance biodiversity, provide clean water to drink, help regulate the flow of water down to the village below us which floods from time to time, add to the landscape, and provide energy…We are committed to continually improve our impact on ecosystem services and pollution prevention.
We were founder members of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association and the ORFC. We’re very interested in expanding our knowledge and finding out what we can do better and with the same amount of land hopefully continue producing more and better food but at the same time fixing more carbon for a longer time as well – and to that end we’ve recently started up a trial agroforestry plot. A couple of years ago with the Cornwall Wildlife Trust we set up the Cornwall Beaver Project too. There’s a raft of biodiversity benefits that can come from having beavers.
Farm diversification – we have a countryside classroom for schools, colleges and universities, on-site accommodation, and run woodland walks. We also provide a venue for corporate events, weddings and parties.
Sustainability in practice
|Listen to Chris talk about the process of rotational grazing on the farm, the main drivers for it, and some of the advantages and disadvantages here:
Some key points
Carbon sequestration and increasing soil organic matter (SOM) through using cover crops, min till, direct drilling, and pasture woodland
|Listen to Chris talk about the reasons behind some of the farming practices he deploys to increase carbon sequestration and soil organic matter (SOM), and how he carries them out on the farm here:
Some key points
Motivations for farming applying agro-ecological practices and looking to the future…
|Listen to Chris talk about some of the driving forces behind his way of farming, and some of his hopes for the future here:
Some key points
FARMER TIPS (rotational grazing)