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Jan 2017: keeping chickens in. What happens?

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Sascha's Blog

How do I order my organic meat?

How do I order my organic meat?

  • Call us 01738 730201
  • email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • order online
  • VISIT the Butchery at the farm, Mon Tue Wed and Fri 8am-4pm
  • Edinburgh Farmers Market 9-2pm every Saturday
  • Perth Farmers Market 9-2pm tomorrow SATURDAY 5th March
  • We are now taking orders for Easter - open Friday 25th March

Organic is different

It’s a very exciting time to be an organic farmer, there’s lots of good news out there.

We have the most robust study for years showing us that the way we farm has a significant impact on the nutrient quality of our food, we have the Soil Association’s organic market report showing sales of organic food are up 4.9% in Scotland 2015, and we have a very interesting statistic showing that 50% of Scots would buy organic if more were available.

The research published in February in the British Journal of Nutrition shows that organic milk and meat has a 50% greater content of omega 3 fatty acids. This is largely due to the fact that organic animals have to have grass, in particular clover, as a significant portion of their diet. Clover - that fantastic plant which turns nitrogen in the air into nitrates in the soil is the cornerstone of all our organic farming practice. It doesn’t matter what else you want to grow – you have to start with clover. If you want to read it in greater detail I have attached the link here.

So we know it’s better for us, and we know it’s kinder to the environment, and we know organic farming has high standards of animal welfare, so why don’t we eat more of it?

You could say that it’s more expensive, but 50% of Scots say they would buy more organic food if it were available. That suggests that price isn’t the overriding issue. It’s availability. Supermarkets don’t stock it. We would like to grow more organic stuff on a bigger scale but we won’t get our fingers burnt again. Organics were pushed very hard in the noughties by supermarkets and then the crisis of 2008 came, supermarkets took organic produce off the shelves, and organic farmers who had made significant investments were left exposed financially. Although we may not want to go back into that trade, there are plenty of farmers in Scotland who are looking for opportunities and this would seem to be one. Farmers are very adaptable, we will grow whatever we get paid for. Most of us are small scale independent businesses able to change quickly and we can, and will, respond if we have confidence in longevity and price fairness.

So that’s 2.5 million people in Scotland who want organic food, that’s immensely powerful. It means more people eating food with better nutrient levels, increased biodiversity across land managed organically, more animals kept in higher welfare conditions, more land in grass rotations which nurture our soils, lower use of pesticides, increased numbers of people working on farms and engaged with the land, the list goes on.

In short, organic not only is different, it can make a difference.

The next generation.

image001Many people ask us if our boys are interested in farming. I would say that they are interested in the business side of farming and butchery but are less enthusiastic about the hard work side of it, which I can hardly blame them for.

They do however, understand more about food and its production than the average 15 & 17 year olds, and that is a good thing. My eldest son, has taken his father’s love of the land and wildlife and is a passionate and committed conservationist, and in an effort to hone his writing and photography skills, has started a blog. He has agreed to guest here and we have chosen his recent posting about beavers.

Tree DamageLocally, the uncontrolled reintroduction of beavers, and their subsequent rapid spread throughout the Tay and Earn valley river system is causing problems. They block waterways, and fields previously good for cultivation, are being downgraded to less valuable permanent grazing land. Like many conservation issues there is no right or wrong answer and his piece highlights the tensions that can occur between the needs of farmers and conservationists.

An extract from

A new year, in my experience, always begins by looking back at the old one. In particular, my mind dwells on a resurgent mammal that would I had hoped would have been awarded status of British native, but wasn’t.

I'm referring to the European beaver. Having been wiped out from the UK in the 17th century, four pairs were reintroduced to Argyll’s Knapdale Forest in 2009, as part of the Scottish Beaver Trial.

Since 2006, beavers have been present on the loch of Aigas estate and before that, beavers were well established in Scotland, with a population of approx 200 established in the River Tay since escaping in 2001. Yet they have no formal protection and, being classed as feral, this has resulted in the sometimes indiscriminate killing of the beavers on the Tay. Reasons vary, with claims such as beavers “destroying woodlands”, “ruining fish stocks” and being a general threat to wildlife.

As a native species, however, the beaver has a niche in wetland ecology, even if it is a niche vacant for 400 years. Though the site of a grove of trees felled by beavers may appear alarming at first, in the long-term, this is an effective example of natural coppicing, whereby trees, through repetitive gnawing of stems, develop their ability to re-grow branches. Coppicing of stems by beavers helps increase sunlight falling on the ground floor, thus benefiting ground flora. By creating dead wood, beavers also help a range of cavity-nesting birds, invertebrates and fungi.

Perhaps beavers are best known for building dams, to reduce the velocity of a water body. Despite concerns about these dams impact on salmon, evidence from Sweden and Poland shows that, while there is a risk of dams hindering migrating salmon, this is counteracted by how beaver dams act as nursery beds for salmon fry. Indeed, salmon in dammed rivers are, on average, larger than those without. Amphibians benefit too: the Devon Beaver Project showed an increase in frogspawn clumps over 2 years. John Lister-Kaye has reported as of July 2015 that the beavers on Aigas loch have increased total biodiversity by a factor of 3.

Despite such positive effects on biodiversity, there is still fear of beavers affecting productive farmland. Beaver dams can indeed flood farmland and create areas of rushes and unpalatable grasses, yet this is often localised, and can be dealt with using non-lethal methods, such as repetitive dismantling of beaver dams.

So how does a project commenced 7 years ago concern 2015? Last year the trial wrapped up, and the final report was collated. Scottish Beaver Trial polls found 60% of correspondents supported reintroduction, while only 5% were strongly opposed. This would have been the first reintroduction of a mammal to the UK.

Discussion of the report by Scottish Parliament was supposed to have been well underway by now, with the final verdict intended to have come out in March 2015. However, it was postponed, allegedly due to clashing with the General Election, until November or December 2015 for the final verdict. Again, no final statement materialised. With any luck, it will be issued in the next 12 months. I have concerns for even that: I fear that the upcoming Scottish elections will delay the report even further and hamper the conclusion of this piece of environmental policy.

Taking a wider perspective though, Nicola Sturgeon has recently begun to unveil her policies for 2016, concerning health, education and welfare. Can I call for an environmental policy, not just for the SNP, but for all parties running in the Scottish election?

Image courtesy of the Scottish Beaver Trial 

How do I order my organic food?

  • Call us 01738 730201
  • email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • order online
  • Visit the butchery at the farm MON TUE WED FRI 8-4pm
  • Edinburgh Farmers Market every Saturday 9-2pm
  • Perth Farmers Market 9-2pm SATURDAY 6th FEB

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Animal Welfare: Why should we care?

Every day I walk into the farm and there’s a squad of piglets mooching about. We brought a sick sow in to keep an eye on her and she then had 8 piglets. They’re now 6 weeks old and they have started venturing out.
I hurry past in my infinite busyness but their baby animal cuteness stops me. They are so well decorated, with little white ankle socks on black bodies, and teeny white splodges on their snouts. They are curious, and inch closer each day but then I move, carefully, and they hustle off squeaking and grunting.
piglets mooching 15I know they are ultimately destined for the butchery. We are used to life and death here on our farm. If we eat meat an animal dies. Our business means that we care about how our animals live, but we also care what happens after they die.

Dave, the stockman, watches our cattle, sheep, and pigs and makes sure they live as well as they can. He’s good at it, and notices the details that can go wrong in the animals’ day to day life.

If you watch animals you realise they have certain behaviours. Our cattle, sheep, and pigs are mammalian. Cows are social, and will gather round when there’s a new calf born into the group. They all have a nuzzle at their niece’s, daughter’s, cousin’s or sister’s new offspring. They are checking out what’s happening in the social group, you could call it, keeping up with the gossip.

Chickens are reptilian, and they are extremely sensitive to their environment. It is therefore imperative we keep their environmental needs met. They have one instinct, which is to peck and when things go wrong they peck each other. If we are to keep animals for our food needs, we should be aware that our food choices have consequences. You wouldn’t pen up your pet hen, in a wire cage with 12 others, with a footprint of a piece of A4 paper each to move around in, leave the lights on for 24 hours and expect it all to go well?
Free Range Organic Laying Hens
I have heard it said that you can judge a society by how it treats its animals. Are we in the UK destined to a particular type of blindness that closes our eyes to the way our food animals live? We should treat a hen like a queen. She gives us an egg a day regardless of how we keep her. Maybe we could treat her well by paying a bit more for our eggs. She's only 4lb in weight and she's not as cute as those piglets but she deserves our compassion, and a high standard of living nonetheless.

Taste: Creating Memories

I sat at the latest monthly Slow Food gathering in L’escargot Blanc on Monday night. We ate a delicious supper at great value (£12.50 for 2 courses with a glass of wine) and listened to our hosts Fred Berkmiller and Linda Dick tell their stories.

They both spoke about taste as their driving motivation in choosing which direction to take their businesses. Linda wanted her family to eat chicken that tasted of something, and that was it. The business grew because her desire to produce chicken worth eating found others who felt the same and were prepared to pay her a proper price for it, and as she says, “we just went from there”.

Fred Berkmiller, the owner of L’Escargot Blanc and L’Escargot Bleu in Edinburgh, also spoke about taste. On Monday he talked about “listening to the taste of food” and the memories it evokes in your mind as you eat. Food is emotional, always. He encouraged us to judge food on its taste and not look at labels, to make decisions on that basis, and to trust our own judgement.

It’s difficult to do that. Our food world, like all other industries, is dominated by advertising and label cleverness. Reading between the lines of what a label does say and more importantly, what it doesn’t say, is tricky. How do you know where to start? best broiler

In all honesty price is usually a good guide to the worth of something. If it seems very cheap then it probably is. It’s probably had something added in to make it cheap, or something taken out in the production process, like taste.

At the other end of the scale just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it is “better”. You have to judge that for yourself. It’s difficult, because you have to ask yourself what matters most to you? Value for money? Food miles? Environmental concerns? Exposure to pesticide residues? The list goes on.

Taste however, is subjective, it’s one of our more primitive senses, along with smell, and when you take the time to concentrate on it, it can be your guide through the label jungle.Roast Chicken

The other delightful thing about the sense of taste is it generates strong emotions. When something tastes good it makes me happy. My eyes close and I smile. This is a great opportunity for positive emotion in our day to day lives, 3 times a day. Yes its only food, you may say, but in a hectic day that emotion can be like a little oasis of calm and niceness. All we have to do is take the time to feel it.

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