Spring marks the beginning of the life cycle of a cow – calving! The calf will feed and suckle as naturally as possible. When the weather is warm enough (and risk of pneumonia has passed), the cow and calf will be turned out to pasture and spend the summer grazing meadow and permanent pastures.
Permanent pastures are rich bio-diverse grass lands and have been in grass for hundreds of years. These fields are not given high amounts of artificial fertilizers, but are allowed to grow in a less intensive way. This encourages the growth of clover, wild herbs and many wild flowers, which is a tremendous asset for the wildlife that thrives there. Many insects including spiders, grasshoppers, millipedes, butterflies and moths need these species rich pastures to enable them to fulfil their life cycles. In modern intensive methods, these factors are missing. Therefore, not allowing nature to thrive. This bio-diversity in the pasture is also part of the integral flavour of the meat – something that is absent from intensively farmed meat.
In June the bull is turned out with the cows. During this month he serves the cows naturally, as opposed to artificial insemination which is used in some intensive systems. As a farmer, there is no more idyllic peaceful view than that of a herd of cows lying in the sunshine with calves stretched out next to them. With an abundance of natural open space they have the chance to exhibit natural behaviour, which they are so often deprived of in intensive farming methods.
Some fertilizers are used in a limited way as a management method to level out the growth. Spot treatment is used on weeds – treating the affected area instead of spraying the entire field. Animals are regularly wormed as it is an animal welfare issue. The prime concern as a farmer is welfare of the animals. Some organic systems are not always to the benefit of the animals. Rearing animals the traditional way has all the benefits of the organic system by way of bio-diversity, but without the steep price tag that comes with organically produced meat.
Cows graze outdoors until Autumn when the weather starts to turn. The cattle are brought back to the sheds in the farmyard over the winter. They are housed in loose pens with heaps of straw so they can rest comfortably, wander around and feed on silage. All stock is checked on everyday, whereas in many systems, especially abroad, cows are left for weeks on end without being checked on.
Come the spring, after a nine month pregnancy, calving begins during March. The cows return to the pastures with their calves to begin the process all over again. Our cows can live up to 13 or 14 years. The life span of an intensively farmed cow isn’t much more than 5 of 6 years and are usually culled due to ill health.
Calves from the previous year are put out to graze for their second summer, with a diet supplemented by feeding a rolled barley, protein and molasses mix. This is to improve growth rates and to increase confirmation of the final carcass – the ratio between meat and bone and the less valuable and high value joints. These calves continue to grow on during the summer on the same feed regime. They are then selected for slaughter at 20-22 months for the heifers (females) and 24-26 months for steers (castrated males). Our beef is hung for 3 to 4 weeks.
The difference in age being that the heifers have a tendency to gain more fat and the steers naturally grow to be bigger animals. Every year we tend to keep 20% of the heffers to join the calving herd and replace some of the older cows. Essentially, this is the same system of beef production which has been in existence since man first domesticated animals. Many of the other creatures in the life cycle of the pasture field depend on these animals grazing the fields. This is part of Britain’s heritage. When you buy your meat from Lobbs Farm Shop you are supporting this vital system of food production.
The breed of sheep here at the farm are Polled Dorset Horns – a traditional West Country breed. Known for their quality of wool and their unique ability to be able to lamb at any time through the year (provided the ram is put in 5 months before hand).
We choose to put the rams in (who usually live in the orchard) during June, which means the ewes will lamb in November and December. By lambing at this time of year the lambs will grow during winter on the pastures and meadows whilst the cattle are in the shed. Due to Cornwall’s mild climate, grass grows during the winter enabling the lambs to feed along with the ewe’s milk.
We lamb in Autumn, February and March to ensure continuity of supply to the farm shop. These lambs are fattened for the last eight weeks on a supplementary feed of rolled barley, protein and molasses. Lambs are slaughtered at 5 – 6 months, we believe that this is the best time to eat the lamb, when it is at its most succulent and tender. The Lamb is hung for 5 to 10 days.
The farm was awarded the Silver Lapwing in 2009, proof of their commitment to environmental care and beating all of the organic farms that were entered in the competition. The Lobb brothers are very proud to be the first farm in Cornwall to win the national Silver Lapwing prize.