The Bamford family are world-renowned for their soil moving machines, but they are also passionate about using organic farming methods to produce top quality food. Laura Bowyer reports from Gloucestershire.
Daylesford Farm Shop cites itself as a go-to shopping destination for premium, organic groceries. Stylish and luxurious in decor, much of the shop was designed by Lady Carole Bamford herself.
At the same site lies one of the family’s 930-hectare (2,300-acre) farms. Here, farm manager Richard Smith produces lamb, beef, milk, poultry, fruit and vegetables to supply the shop as well as managing the Bamford family’s 1,200ha (3,000-acre) Wootton Farm, Staffordshire.
Running a commercial flock of 1,300 pure Lleyn ewes, half are put to a sire of the same breed with the remaining going to terminal sires, maintaining a scanning rate of 200 per cent.
A flock of 40 Ryeland ewes are kept for producing rams to be used as terminal sires, with Ryeland cross lambs killing out at 20-22.5kg with a U3L carcase, aged anything from 16 weeks to 16 months.
Richard says: “I am thrilled with the results of the Ryelands’ progeny and I believe they produce a sweet meat with superior eating quality.
“However, the breed is not the most prolific, with the flock scanning at 180 per cent this year.”
Richard says: “The Ryeland is an old British Downland breed.
It adds something different to the Daylesford brand and I am delighted to support our native breeds.”
Lambing 125 pedigree ewes, the Kerry Hill is another breed chosen at the farm for a number of reasons. With a keen interest in the running of the farm, Lady Bamford has a passion for rare breeds. Of Welsh border descent, the Kerry Hills provide striking images for marketing materials, as well as thrifty sheep. They hope to build their own breeding flock of Kerrys and also run a flock of 25 pure Texel ewes.
Pedigree and pure-bred ewes lamb in late February, and the commercials from April 1. In mid-January, ewes are scanned and shorn, although hoggets’ wool is taken off in May. Those carrying twins and triplets are fed concentrates.
The farm has sole use of slaughter facilities at its other site in Staffordshire, which can take up to 200 lambs per week.
Further to the sheep, 130 pedigree Friesians are milked through a new 20:20 herringbone parlour, with recording systems in each stall monitoring milk quality and other management figures.
Richard, a former Oxford University farm manager who also once farmed in New Zealand, says: “I believe in breeding and using animals fit for their environment.
“When I came here 11 years ago, I inherited the Holstein herd but bred British Friesians from these to get an all-Friesian herd, achieving pedigree status in 2014. More than 70 per cent of the herd have lactated more than six times, rather than the 2.5 you get from a Holstein.
“The Holstein is the racing car of the cattle world – it needs high inputs to achieve high outputs. I prefer Friesians which require lower inputs to produce medium outputs. Ours will give 4,000 litres from forage and 2,800 litres from home-grown cereals and brought-in protein. We are organic, so when we dry off we use minimal antibiotics and teat sealant on 85 per cent of cows.”
Daylesford Farm produces milk at 23p per litre, receiving 38ppl from the shop. The farm is also home to 30 Gloucesters. Their milk is used to produce single Gloucester cheese, recognised as a Protected Designation of Origin product.
He says: “We are running a low cost, economic herd here, with replacement rates at half the national average. Cows are averaging 6,800 litres per lactation, giving 3.8 per cent butterfat and between 4.28-4.4 per cent protein.”
Calving takes place between September and April, providing a constant supply of milk to the shop. The organic standard is for cows’ milk or an organic calf milk replacer to be fed to calves for the first 12 weeks of life. However, Richard favours real milk.
Since becoming organically certified, Richard says the farm has not had a single case of pneumonia or scours. This, he says, is due to ample colostrum intake.
All heifers are reared on-farm before being put to a Hereford bull, being first serviced at 15-16 months of age, calving down at two years old.
Calves are weaned at five days. All dairy bull calves are put into beef production, which has seen high demand for the Daylesford brand, with all meat going through this outlet.
Sticking to the native breeds, a 100-head herd of pedigree Aberdeen-Angus suckler cows is kept at Daylesford, along with 50 pedigree South Devons. Richard favours these breeds for their ability to finish from a forage-based diet, saying the South Devon is the ultimate singled suckled cow.
Crops grown on the 161 hectares (400 acres) of arable land include:
Heifers are taken to 20-24 months and about 300-350kg. Steers are kept until 22 months of age, weighing 325-375kg. Herefords produce smaller carcases, while the Angus and South Devons weigh in at the higher end of the scale, he says.
Forage is key, and Daylesford opts for grass silage. Dairy cows eat 57kg of forage per day at 29 per cent dry matter, so digest 17kg dry matter each day.
Richard introduced sainfoin for ensiling four years ago, believing it is a sustainable, high quality forage. He says: “It is a drought-resistant legume with anthelmintic properties. We have incorporated it into an eight-year ley and are impressed with its quality as a feed. It is well suited to this ground and used all over the Cotswolds as working horse feed. But it went out of fashion at the same time artificial nitrogen fertilisers were introduced.”
Free-range laying birds occupy 14ha (35 acres) of the farm, with 6,000 birds kept for eggs to sell in the shop. For the Christmas market, 2,000 bronze turkeys are kept in one of the sheep sheds from June to December. The farm also produces 50 free-range ducks each week, plus 500 geese per year for the festive trade.
Most years, 500 quails are kept for laying. Although the species is unable to be covered by organic accreditation, they are still available in the shop.
Richard says: “When it comes to organic farming, health and welfare come first. So, although we use less animal health products generally, we will give them if they are needed.
“Staff are trained in faecal egg counting. If an animal has a worm burden we give it an anthelmintic, but the withdrawal period will be three times as long. Some years we do not use any at all.”
Away from Daylesford, the Bamfords’ Staffordshire farm is home to 350 Red Hind deer, with their progeny sold in the farm shop. Deer are killed at 15-22 months of age, and slaughtering begins mid-September. Hinds are naturally served, calving at two years old after a 236-day gestation period.
Richard says: “My biggest responsibility here is producing quality, 52 weeks of the year for the Daylesford brand. We own the entire vertically integrated supply chain at Daylesford.”
Richard and Lady Bamford feel strongly about organic and sustainable farming methods. He says: “I believe we can feed the world organically, but we cannot achieve this with the current methods of monoculture.
“We need diversity, producing crops and livestock on the same farm. I am passionate about training young people as agriculture seems to now be at the lower end of scale when it comes to popular careers. Farming is only going to become more important to feed an ever-growing population.
“We are much more than a farm at Daylesford; we have cut the middle man out of our production and it is very satisfying.”