Tablehurst is a biodynamic farm, which means that the whole farm, including the garden, is treated as a single organism in which all the different activities are interconnected and all are dependent on a symbiotic relationship with the natural environment. We grow food 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.
We have around 50 suckler cows on the farm, some of them more than 10 years old. The cows spend all summer outside on the pastures and there is a good chance you will see them if you walk the footpaths that criss-cross our land. In the winter, they live indoors, 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 to be grown on, typically until they are 27 months old. The animals 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 sufficient to feed all the animals in winter.
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 cows horns are actually delicate sense organs, and there is no good reason to remove them. All the cattle raised at Tablehurst keep their horns throughout their lives.
In the early years of Tablehurst Farm, we used to have one Jersey cow to provide milk for the farm team, but it wasn't until the spring of 2019 that we began rearing our own herd of Jersey cattle to supply milk to the community. We now have a small herd of 10 jersey cows (plus their calves) on the farm. They are almost entirely grass-fed, and for the time being the only product we are producing is raw milk which is on sale from a vending machine from the 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 in particular 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.
Pigs have been part of the farming at Tablehurst for over 20 years. We rear a variety of traditional breeds, with Saddlebacks predominating at the moment. The pigs stay in the barns during winter, but in summer they live mainly outdoors, with constant access to small houses in which they sleep. Our sows and boars live in close proximity, and we don't use artificial insemination.
Tablehurst lamb is produced from two flocks of sheep. Here at Tablehurst, we rear a flock of Wiltshire Horn sheep. These are the animals that you will encounter in the sheep barn in the early spring and at our annual lambing days. Each ewe gives birth to between one and three lambs each year. In addition to our own flock, we now also rear sheep in collaboration with Green River Farm in Groombridge. Green River Farm started on the journey to biodynamic farming about seven years ago, and we agreed to run some of our sheep on their land. Gradually over the years, Green River has established itself fully, and the sheep farmer there now is a former Tablehurst employee. The arrangement now is that Green River rears lambs until they are about six months old, after which they move to Tablehurst for the remainder of their lives. This is proving to be a fruitful collaboration, which we hope to continue long into the future.
We rear more than 10,000 chickens each year. They all live in open houses with permanent access to a large field. We have recently started a tree-planting programme in this area to provide shelter, and to improve biodiversity in the field. This in turn will provide a wider variety of natural food to supplement the organic feed that the chickens are given.
Each year we also rear turkeys, geese and ducks for Christmas. Of all the poultry, geese are the best suited to our land as they eat mainly grass.
We grow 15ha of biodynamic oats, barley and peas each year plus some turnips and fodder beet. A further 30ha is planted with multi-species leys on which the livestock can graze. All our arable land (and the garden) are managed using "minimum tillage". This means that rather than traditional deep ploughing, we only disturb the top few cm of soil. The allows a healthy soil structure, full of bacteria, fungal webs and invertebrates to establish beneath the thin tilled layer.