This article by Angus D. Birditt was produced for Pasture Fed Livestock Association
Robert and Kate Campbell are ‘Pasture For Life’ certified farmers at Wester Logie Farm in Fife, who sell their meat under ‘Fife Dexters’. Robert and Kate discuss how they specialise in the practice of silvopasture, how they got involved with Pasture for Life (PfL) and the benefits of being a certified farmer.
What do you farm at Wester Logie Farm, and talk us through your silvopasture methods?
KC: Well, we started farming from scratch in 2010, and in 2013, we started with our herd of Dexters. Our first herd was from Glen Isla; our second from the Isle of Kerrera; and our third herd came from the Isle of Lewis. Now, a few years on, we have a closed herd of up to 50 Dexters, a small flock of primitive Boreray sheep, and of course, our single Highland-Dexter cross called Georgina. Our livestock spend their whole life outside in the 110-acres we have here at Wester Logie Farm, fed simply on grass and pasture. We alternate the grazing with our cattle and sheep, which stops the deterioration of the ground and helps any risk of parasite diseases.
RC: Among other regenerative farming methods, we focus on silvopasture, which is essentially herding the Dexters into our woodlands to graze. This way of farming is beneficial on so many levels. Firstly, it gives the herd a more varied and nutritious diet, where they can eat leaves and woodland pasture. Secondly, as we feed them on a nutrient-rich herbal ley haylage during winter (grown on the farm), the diversity of seed in the haylage is dispersed onto the woodland floor through their dung, which introduces microbes and invertebrates that improves soil fertility – something which is further embedded as they tread the ground with their hooves. They also rub on the trunks in the woodland, which naturally raises the leaf canopy, giving them an outdoor shelter or a living barn, if you will. If you have ever felt the ground of a conifer woodland, you will know it’s dry and warm, even on the wettest of days!
"We are also growing plenty of wild flowers in margins to increase pollinating insects, planting mixed hedges with species that bring their own benefits to mine the soil at different levels..."
What other regenerative farming methods do you use?
RC: One of the most effective and simplest regenerative methods we use is to embrace the sun; it’s energy and light. We use it to grow as much grass as possible. With the correct management, it’s as simple as that! Using methods like mob grazing helps immensely. Another method we have found helpful is to grow a more diverse array of plants like our herbal leys with legumes and herbs, which will help to improve soil health and structure. We now have around 10 types of grass growing here at Wester Logie Farm, including 3 varieties of clover for nitrogen-fixing as well as herbs, such as, chicory (an anthelmintic for ruminant animals) and plantain. Many of these grasses and herbs have long roots, which are great for both drought and flooding, and take up a lot of minerals. These nutrient-rich herbals leys are what we graze our cattle on when they are not in the woodlands. It is also where we produce our own haylage from, which we then feed them on over winter.
KC: We are also growing plenty of wild flowers in margins to increase pollinating insects, planting mixed hedges with species that bring their own benefits to mine the soil at different levels, whilst planting trees that naturally help the livestock, such as, willow that gives certain natural medicinal and nutritious qualities.
"Our only regret is that we weren’t ‘Pasture For Life’ certified years before, but it’s the best thing we have done. "
How does Pasture for Life help you as a farmer?
RC: The PfL is such a great source of information. As novice farmers, it was the PfL forum where we could find other farmers and experts in the agricultural industry. It is a place where networking happens, contacts are made; many of whom are very open and friendly to giving advice. It is a brilliant community of farmers and related people that all focus on the same regenerative values, such as, improving soil health and agroecology. Soil biomass is such a massive subject that we are trying to learn more about, using various PfL forums and talks.
Our only regret is that we weren’t Pasture for Life Certified years before, but it’s the best thing we have done. The good thing is that through PfL, people are becoming more aware that some products, which are being advertised as ‘grass-fed’, aren’t necessarily grass-fed throughout their lives. The 'Pasture for Life’ stamp highlights those farmers who actually have 100% grass-fed meats, trailblazing those who farm regeneratively. They are brilliant at encouraging everyone to eat less but better meat, not just remove it altogether.
I believe the PfL will come into their own when these food standards [set out in the Agriculture Bill recently] are introduced in the coming months and years, when lower levels of food standards will arrive into our food system; that’s when the Association’s ‘Pasture for Life’ stamp will really highlight those working at the highest of standards.
What was the difference from being a PfL member to being a Pasture for Life Certified farmer?
RC: Being a PfL member allows you to become part of a like minded community, where you can learn new methods and updated methods, share resources, answer questions, and question methods. You can talk to a huge array of farmers, from novices to experts in their field. KC: As soon as we took the next step to becoming Pasture for Life Certified, we started to get people approaching us for the first time. They saw the 'Pasture for Life' stamp and profile on the PfL website, and had the confidence and knowledge that we were farming to PfL’s high standards. It also gives us the confidence to make a fuss about being 100% grass-fed to our consumers, having the backing of an official body like PfL behind us is so helpful.
Where do you sell your Pasture for Life Certified meat?
KC: We send our livestock to Andrew Duff at MacDuff wholesaler, who then sells it across the UK. We also sell some of our meat through local box schemes or at Bowhouse, which is a great place to meet local consumers and tell them exactly how the meat was farmed.