We have around 50 suckler cows on the farm, some of them more than 10 years old. We have introduced mob grazing, and the cows spend all summer outside on the pastures. In the winter, they are housed in our barns, as the English climate is too wet for all-year outdoor grazing.
The cows usually have one calf a year which stays with the mother for at least 9 months. After this, the young animals join a group of other young stock, typically until they are 27 months old. They live entirely on a diet of biodynamic grass and herbs grown here on the farm. In the summer, we produce hay and silage from our own fields to feed our animals in winter.
Tablehurst is a biodynamic farm. This means that the whole farm, including the garden, is treated as a single organism; all activities are interconnected and dependent on a symbiotic relationship with the natural environment. We grow food not just for consumption now, but we farm for the long term, caring for wildlife, building soil fertility, and always striving for more sustainable ways to feed our community. To learn a bit more about the ideas behind biodynamic farming, click here.
Our Sussex Beef Cattle
A common misunderstanding about cattle is that only bulls have horns. This is quite untrue; the majority of farmers remove the horns from young animals because this makes it easier to house the animals in more crowded conditions. Far from being a weapon, the cow's horns are in reality delicate sense organs, so there is no good reason to remove them. All the cattle raised at Tablehurst keep their horns.
Our Jersey Dairy Cattle
In the early years of Tablehurst Farm, we used to have one Jersey cow to provide milk for the farm team.
Then, in the spring of 2019, we began rearing our own herd of Jersey cattle to supply milk and yoghurt for our customers. We now have a small herd of ten adult jersey cows, and their calves, on the farm. They are almost entirely grass-fed, and produce wonderful rich milk, sold completely untreated, from the vending machine outside the farm shop.
When the calves are born, they stay with their mothers until they are mature enough to live entirely on grass, which is usually at about five to six months old. This means that we share the milk supply with the herd.
The milk from our cows is completely untreated and doesn't go through the normal processes of pasteurisation and homogenisation, neither of which is necessary, and which, in combination, destroy the natural life in the milk and denature the milk proteins and delicate enzymes needed for digestion.
Our Intrepid Pigs
Pigs have been part of the farming at Tablehurst for over 20 years.
We rear a variety of traditional breeds, with Saddlebacks predominating at times. The British Saddleback, a good, hardy forager, is a dual-purpose breed, and one of the most prolific British pig breeds. Sows are lovely mothers, with an average litter size of approximately 10.
The pigs live mainly in the pastures in the summer, with access to small houses in which they sleep.
In the winter they are housed in the barns. If you have visited our farm in winter, you will have seen pigs living happily amongst the cows in some of the barns.
Our sows and boars live in close proximity, allowing for natural fertility to take place. We do not use artificial insemination.
Visitors are sometimes startled to find the occasional piglet wandering around the farm. In case you didn't know, pigs are intrepid escape artists! We are always vigilant, but if you see a piglet rummaging free, please contact us.
Our Horned Sheep
At Tablehurst we rear a flock of Wiltshire Horn sheep. According to the Wiltshire Horn Sheep Society, "The Wiltshire Horn sheep is the original no-shearing sheep, having the strengths of a native lowland breed. The large framed ewes are good, milky mothers and are equally suited to indoor and outdoor lambing systems. The lambs have remarkable vitality at birth and will finish off grass growing to heavy weights without putting on excess fat. This ability of the Wiltshire Horn ewe to produce... butchers lambs is now becoming appreciated more...
It is of course a very old native breed and up until the end of the eighteenth century was the predominant breed to be found on the Wiltshire Downs. At that time the sheep were able to roam freely, doing well on the poor terrain which offered little shade or protection. It is this background that has given the breed its hardiness and resilience."
These are the sheep you meet at our lambing days. Each ewe gives birth to between one and three lambs each year and we lamb in the fields.
We rear more than 10,000 chickens a year. They all live in large, airy, purpose-built hen houses with permanent access to large pastures and fresh water.
We have rolled out a fruit tree planting programme in these pastures. The trees provide shelter and improve biodiversity. Moreover, the fruit offer a wider variety of natural food to supplement the organic feed the chickens are raised on.
Each year we rear turkeys, geese and ducks, popular choices with many of our customers for Christmas. Our turkeys are a traditional smaller breed.
Of all the birds we rear at Tablehurst, geese are the best suited poultry for our farmland as they mainly feed on pasture grass.
We grow 15ha of biodynamic oats, barley and peas each year plus turnips and fodder beet - invaluable additions to our animals' diet.
A further 30ha are planted with multi-species leys, again so that our livestock can graze on varied pasture.
All our arable land (and the garden) are managed using "minimum tillage." Rather than traditional deep ploughing, we only disturb the top few cm of soil. This allows a healthy soil structure, full of bacteria, fungal webs (mycorrhiza) and invertebrates to establish beneath the thin tilled layer.
We also grow heritage wheat which is freshly milled onsite and used by our Fermento bakery. You can't get fresher bread than that!