This article by Angus D. Birditt was produced for Pasture Fed Livestock Association
Nick, Barbara and son Oliver Fuller from ‘Halliloo Longhorns’ farm at Church Farm in Woldingham, Surrey. The following article hears from Nick Fuller at Church Farm, who talks about why he chose Longhorns to farm in line with Pasture-Fed Livestock Association principles.
Farming Longhorns is one third of what the Fuller family do at Church Farm or ‘Church Farm Services’ to be more exact. Besides farming their ‘Pasture For Life’ certified beef, they have a flourishing contracting business making haylage, bales of hay and big bales of lucerne haylage every year, whilst they also run two livery yards hosting around 70 horses.
Nick is the fifth generation of the Fuller family to farm in the Woldingham area, his son, Oliver, being the sixth generation. I met Nick on a hot muggy day in late September to capture and hear more about how he farms his small herd of Longhorns on the steep banks of the North Downs.
Nick Fuller: I’ll start from the beginning, shall I? We are tenant farmers with around 1000-acres in total, renting from 18 different landlords on what we call ‘small parcels of land’ surrounding large houses typical of the area on the North Downs in Surrey. More astonishingly, perhaps, is that our land sits within the M25 belt only 17 miles from the centre of London, but it feels more like 170 miles!
Angus D. Birditt: So why farm Longhorns here in the North Downs, Nick?
NF: Well, you see Angus, Longhorns are incredibly easy to farm. They are wonderful mothers and produce plenty of milk. Longhorns also calve easily all year around and they are lovely docile creatures. We have only called the vet twice in just over ten years of having them, that’s how easy they are to farm!
We make sure that the Longhorn cattle calve the year round so we have a constant supply of meat. We graze the Longhorns on the steep valleys here in the North Downs throughout the spring, summer and autumn. In spring and summer especially, we graze the cows on fields that are 700-feet above sea level, which get stunning views of the London cityscape – perhaps the view is just for me to enjoy, but I’m sure they appreciate it! We winter them outside on unfenced chalk pads, making sure that there is a good bed of straw covering part of the chalk pad for the animals to lie on.
We feed the Longhorns mixed herbal leys including native grass species and lucerne haylage in feeders, whilst their calves have access to a covered area where they can eat their own lucerne haylage. We never feed concentrates or grain to our Longhorns as, well, we wouldn’t be ‘Pasture For Life’ certified now!
ADB: What farming practices do you use at Church Farm, and why?
NF: We have a relatively small herd of 50 cows bred from a couple of bulls. They are placed onto pastures that are becoming more and more complex with herbal leys, especially populated with lucerne that we grow for grazing and cutting to make haylage. It’s all pretty much learning as we go with what to put in our mixed herbal leys, seeing what grows well on our chalky land, which is rather poor pasture naturally. To plant the herbal leys, we use a direct drill to not damage the soil structure.
We have actually found that for us mob grazing is rather time consuming and you need to be careful where you do it in each season. For us here on steep terrain and chalky soil, it doesn’t necessarily suit us. We perform traditional block grazing (field to field grazing) and make silage and haylage to feed them during the winter. That is what works best for us here in our climate.
What normally happens is that we send two 30+ month-old animals every month to a small abattoir only a few miles away to be slaughtered, weighing between 300-310kg deadweight. We like to work with local butchers like Nathan Mills at The Butchery in South East London. Nathan focuses on using native breeds from local farmers and a ‘nose-to-tail’ ethos. We also get much of the meat sent back to us to sell directly to sell locally via meat boxes.
ADB: Why did you become ‘Pasture For Life’ certified with the PFLA?
NF: The initial reason why we got the Longhorn cattle was to see how native cattle could cope on our steep terrain, grazing just grass and nothing else. We found that they were absolutely fine and their meat tasted delicious – even getting recognition from Heston Blumenthal as one of the best tasting steaks!
A few months later, we saw a Pasture-Fed Livestock Association representative on Countryfile talking about the organisation and the principles behind 100% grass-fed cattle. It was funny because we thought, ‘hold on, we’re doing that!’ We really liked the PFLA organisation and thought perhaps an official approval for our pasture-fed meat would be good, so we went for the certification. The whole process to get certified was so easy as it was what we were doing anyway. Honesty, I think we only had to change one mineral in the cattle’s diet.
ADB: Have you seen any benefits since becoming ‘Pasture For Life’ certified?
NF: The benefits of being ‘Pasture For Life’ certified are aplenty. Once you’ve explained to a customer what being ‘Pasture For Life’ really means, they realise how important it is to animal welfare, a natural diet and encouraging wildlife friendly fields.
The certification gives us real confirmation and confidence in what we are doing. Plus, we like the idea that we are showcasing our honesty and traceability to everyone. Lots of people we sell to locally actually see the cows grazing on the fields, which is a nice thing as well. Since lockdown, we have seen a huge rise in people wanting our pasture-fed meat that is reared ethically, is good for you and aims to improve the environment – three massive concerns people have at the moment when eating meat.
The community in the South East region is great as well. We quite often chat with Nigel Franklin at Brightleigh Farm and Fidelity Weston at Romshed about farming methods and cattle behaviour. It is really nice to know other people are moving more towards regenerative agriculture.
ADB: What’s your favourite recipe using your ‘Pasture For Life’ certified meat?
NF: That’s a tricky one! We do beef sausages, which are different but delicious. Barbara, my wife, does an incredible bloody mary brisket, made to a Jamie Oliver recipe (https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/beef-recipes/bloody-mary-beef/). The key to making a wonderful brisket is to make a proper bloody mary that cuts through the fat when the brisket is submerged.
The brisket is a funny one, when we started selling our pasture-fed beef, no one wanted to eat brisket, only wanting to eat steaks. Now thankfully, everyone is ordering all sorts of cuts including the brisket, trying new pieces to cook. We even get sent photographs from customers, showing us what they make, which is really nice. I can remember one Christmas a customer showed us a beef wellington made with our Longhorn beef that looked amazing!