This article by Angus D. Birditt was produced for Pasture Fed Livestock Association
Nigel and Penny Franklin farm at Brightleigh Farm, located high up on the Weald clay ridge in the district of Outwood in Surrey. Penny is the second generation farming at Brightleigh Farm and Nigel is the PFLA’s regional facilitator for their South East region. The two discuss Brightleigh Farm and what it means to be ‘Pasture For Life’ certified farmers.
Angus D. Birditt: What do you farm at Brightleigh Farm?
Penny Franklin: Here at Brightleigh Farm, we farm a range of animals, from our small herd of Hereford-Angus crosses (‘Black Baldy Beef’ we like to call them), to our different native breeds of chickens and pigs. The cows are ‘Pasture For Life’ certified and the pigs and chickens are free-range. The chickens – mainly Wardens and Burford Browns – are pasture-raised and often follow the cattle, picking up what they have left. We rear the chickens for 120 days, which gives them enough time to graze naturally outside and have a good life. We want them to have the freest of lives outside not coped up indoors. We have even got Bella, a Maremma Italian guardian sheepdog from a fellow PFLA farmer in Cheshire, to guard over the chickens when they are roaming outside and scare away any natural predators. That’s something we are trying to push here at Brightleigh Farm, creating a holistic system where each animal can play its part in creating a natural cycle. It’s all about mimicking nature as much as we can, working with nature and looking after the soil is a priority. The pigs are rare breed Tamworth-cross-Gloucester Old Spots.
We are also passionate about grazing the animals in the woodlands and on the hedgerows at Brightleigh Farm. The pigs are often let out into the woodlands to naturally grub up roots, which we can then reseed with a mixed herbal ley including plenty of chicory and plantain.
ADB: Tell us more about your ‘Pasture For Life’ herd of cattle, and how you manage them?
PF: Yes, the cows are ‘Pasture For Life’ certified and graze outside for most of the year, sometimes up until Christmas depending on the weather. During winter, they are fed on silage and hay and are back out grazing the fresh pasture in early March.
Over the years, we have found it beneficial to push back calving to May when the quality of the grass they are landing on is that much better. At that time, the cows have also had an extra month or so to eat a pasture-fed diet and are therefore in better condition to calve and their colostrum is of better quality. We’ve found that all of these factors result in the mothers being more relaxed, making for a shorter, much easier pregnancy.
It was in 2014, when I completed a holistic land management course, which started off my passion for mob grazing. Now, we move the cattle once or twice a day, depending on the condition of our permanent pasture. Having used mob grazing for half a decade or so, we have found it helps in so many ways; regenerating new plant growth, creating deeper roots and improving our water filtration on the farm.
We originally had a dairy herd here at Brightleigh Farm, but as I took over we started crossing our Hereford bull with Angus heifers. This was done to bring the size of the cow down, making a shorter cow that could be finished on grass. The taller the cow, you see, the harder to finish it on grass, and so the majority are finished on grain, which we didn’t want to do. The smaller the animal, the easier it is to finish on grass, as they need less food in general. So that’s what we are doing here at Brightleigh Farm, evolving the feed genetics back from being fed on grain to being fed on grass and pasture.
ADB: How did the name ‘Black Baldy Beef come about?
Nigel Franklin: The term comes from the Hereford-Angus cross, the ‘black’ colour of an Angus cow crossed with the ‘bald’ spots of the Hereford cow. It is one of the ways we are marketing our herd, showcasing the best of both breeds of Hereford and Angus. It’s called ‘hybrid vigour’, essentially taking the best aspects from each breed.
The ‘Black Baldy Beef’ signature is essentially to distinguish how good our ‘Pasture For Life’ certified herd is from the rest of the market; bred on a good line of grass-fed genetics, small in stature and brilliant mothers.
We work with Paul Martin at Garlic Wood Butchery, selling our ‘Pasture For Life’ certified meat to him. He gets what we are doing here at Brightleigh Farm and it’s great to know that our meat is heading somewhere where it will be appreciated and promoted.
ADB: Why did you become ‘Pasture For Life’ certified with the PFLA?
NF: Two reasons really, commercially it was beneficial and its community. We found ‘Pasture For Life’ certified meat was the biggest driving force with many of our local butchers, they wanted meat reared ethically and on a pasture-fed diet. The PFLA community was a huge aspect for us as well when signing up. I mean, where could you learn from other farmers who were going through the exact same journey as you were? It was a revelation!
We were also already selling an amount of beef directly to the public from our farm gates, so we wanted to have that stamp of approval to prove that our cows were being raised in the right way. We haven’t necessarily changed our way of farming, as our principles were already aligned with PFLA’s principles, it’s simply that we can now prove that what we are doing is moving in the right direction.
ADB: What’s it like being part of the PFLA community in general and particularly in the South East region?
PF: Being part of the PFLA community was a huge aspect why we became certified. It opened up many doors for us, enabling visits to other ‘Pasture For Life’ certified farms, both in the South East region and across the UK. We are now able to open up discussions with farmers alike on why they are farming the way they are and how we can improve our system.
The PFLA has a forum, which is brilliant. It’s a platform where you can be completely honest, somewhere you can post if you have a problem or simply want to share a particular idea that you think has worked.
The PFLA community gives you feedback (both good and bad!) and fresh ideas. For example, people can suggest what equipment to use for a specific task, how many times to mob graze a day, how to improve water filtration, how to implement bale grazing or how to finish the animal correctly. It’s basically a group of forward-thinking farmers that can help each other, farmers who are willing to think outside the box, and perhaps most amazingly, are willing to fail. That’s what’s really impressive about it, to see how many farmers have the desire to improve what they are doing on their farms, week-on-week, year-on-year.
We have a great relationship with other ‘Pasture For Life’ certified farmers in the UK and local ones in the South East region like Sam Newington over at Limden Brook Organic. We talk to him about mob grazing and we meet up with him a lot, visiting each other’s farms, perhaps a few times a year. The constant conversation and feedback gives us great confidence in what we are doing at Brightleigh Farm and what we can do to improve. For example, leaving thistles is a great one. We thought originally we needed to get rid of them but learning from what Sam did (leaving them to flourish and decay naturally), we have seen huge amounts of goldfinches and all sorts of butterflies feed from them. Now, we just leave the thistles, which eventually die and self-seed in new pastures. I mean nature knows what to do, every plant has its reason to be here, we just need to allow it to happen and farm in a way that, well, doesn’t get in the way of it!
ADB: How did the farm shop evolve at Brightleigh Farm?
NF: It came about with a pop-up shop starting on the 1stFebruary 2020, and with Covid-19 happening and the lockdowns being emplaced, we found ourselves really busy all of a sudden. More people wanted to buy locally, perhaps the supermarkets were low on stock, but it was great to see people eating more pasture-fed beef.
Initially, we started off opening the shop when we had time, but soon we found that more and more customers wanted us to be open every weekend – I mean we had queues coming out of the driveway most days it was open, reaching about 60 people sometimes! After seeing the demand for our produce, we gradually opened it several days a week, and now we are open every Saturday and Sunday. Alongside our ‘Pasture For Life’ certified beef and eggs, we have milk and cream from Nutfield Dairy, butter from Daltons Dairy in Ashbourne, honey from Hookhouse Farm in Outwood, chutneys and chilli jam from Jam Packed Preserves in Epsom and cheese from Norbury Park Farm in Albury.
More recently, we have hosted a market here at Brightleigh Farm every few months. It is a great event now drawing in over a thousand people. Not only do we sell our ‘Pasture For Life’ certified beef and various varieties of eggs, we invite local artists and producers to sell their goods. We get lots of beekeepers, preserve makers and local makers of gin, rum and craft beer. We also host a farm walk to show the public how we farm. It gives the children an opportunity to see the animals and hopefully be inspired to learn about nature. There is a ‘spot the wildlife’ tour that encourages children to seek wooden wildlife figurines like birds and animals in amongst the trees and pasture on the farm – hopefully alongside real wildlife, of course! One of our most regular visitors – and customers for our meat – to the market is Judi Dench, who is so lovely. Judi makes sure she visits every stall whilst she is here!