Amanda Cayley and Chris & Denise Walton of Peelham Farm
Peelham is a 680 acre farm in Berwickshire run by the business partnership of Amanda Cayley,Chris & Denise Walton. They formed a farming partnership in order to take on the farm in 1993 after having previously been neighbours running smallholdings adjacent to the land that came up for sale. The land ranges in height from 300 to 700 ft is grade 2 and 3.
Peelham is a low-input livestock farming enterprise. The primary agricultural output of the farm is meat from sheep, pigs and cattle (including 'field-raised beef-veal'). They have developed livestock management systems which allow them to send animals to slaughter every week of the year to ensure a continuous supply of beef, lamb and pork to their customers. Inputs to the farm are minimal - they use clover to bring nitrogen into the system and there are few other inputs except diesel and electricity although there has been some supplementation with minerals after testing showed the soils to be deficient in phosphate. The animals are finished on the farm and virtually all the feed is produced on-farm. The farm has been transformed from a conventional all-arable farm highly dependent on inputs to a mixed farming system using only minimal inputs. In doing this Denise and Chris have drawn on their academic backgrounds in ecology and agricultural economics and have also learnt from local farmers and from the organic farming movement. Peelham's focus is more on developing a sustainable system than on organic status as such but the farm has been registered as organic with the Scottish Organic Producers Association since 2006.
Fertility and rotations
The basis of Peelham's rotation is a red clover and grass ley which is put down for 2 years - or more in some fields. The seed mixture is provided by John Watson Seeds, who specialise in organic mixes to encourage the fixation of nitrogen. The clover grows vigorously, and these leys provide a significant proportion of nitrogen input to the farm in addition to manure from the overwintering of cattle. The leys are cut for silage and are grazed by the livestock with some fields being conserved for winter grazing. After the ley, feed barley is sown, followed by a second cereal in the better fields. Feed beans are then sown and the fields are then put back into clover and grass.
Their barley is Heart, an old variety which is tall-strawed, with a long seed head but which doesn't lodge too badly and is not susceptible to pest attack. Yields have been good, and sometimes better than what would be expected on a comparable conventional farm. As Heart is not a hybrid they are able to save their own seed and so do not even have to buy in this in. They are still experimenting with varieties of bean to suit the farm and have recently changed to one with better resistance to chocolate spot (‘Ben’). One thing which is particularly noticeable in comparison with neighbouring farms is that both the arable crops and the leys don't tend to suffer too much in dry spells as the plants put down deep roots to seek out nitrogen below the surface. This gives the plant a greater volume of soil to draw moisture from if there is little rain. Peelham also has some areas of permanent pasture and woodland areas which are used to provide grazing at times when times when the rotational fields need to be stock-free.
In Oct 2008 Peelham opened an on-farm butchery in which they now process all their meat.
They add value by hanging and cutting the meat, by making bacon and sausages and they are also developing a range of high-value cured meats such as salami and chorizo. All sales are direct to customers: at farmers markets, via a website and to hotels and shops.
Even before setting up the butchery they had begun to develop this business by having products made by a local butcher to their specifications. In their situation, it is the opportunity to add value and to sell direct to customers, rather than sell into the commodity market, that makes the farm as a whole viable. Customers typically expect fresh meat to be available year-round but many farmers selling direct are not able to meet this expectation, particularly with regard to lamb. Peelham, however, have successfully developed an approach to animal husbandry which produces animals ready to kill every week of the year - pork, beef and lamb.
Management of year-round meat production
The field rotations are managed so that lambs can be fattened on red clover all year round - with the exception of a couple of weeks in March when if necessary a little barley is fed to the hogs. The clover has proven to grow in lower temperatures than grass and the timing of silage cuts and grazing is all done with an eye to conserving forage in the field for the winter months to reduce the need for supplementary feeding. The cattle are fed silage when housed in the winter and the pigs are fed on pea silage and farm-produced grain and beans. At lambing time a few ewe rolls are given but this is to keep the sheep accustomed to being handled, rather than to provide nutrition.
Feed beans are propcorned and crushed and the barley is crimped with a lactobacillus culture. This means it can be harvested earlier and the grain does not have to be dried (which avoids the associated fuel costs, CO2 emissions and need for weatherproof storage). The lactobacillus breaks-down cellulose in the barley making it more digestible – particularly for the pigs.
Peelham have developed a system for producing 'field-raised beef-veal' and about half of their beef animals are slaughtered at 120-150kg deadweight (around 7 months old). This gets maximum financial value out of the animals while avoiding keeping large numbers of store cattle through the winter. A few cattle are still kept on for beef or are sold as stores.
Every week they take a mixed trailer load of animals (eg one beef-veal animal, 6-8 lambs and two to four pigs) to an abattoir 65 miles away. They have adapted a 12 ft trailer to provide separate compartments and use a mobile race to catch and select the sheep and pigs in the fields. The regular handling of the animals means that they are not stressed when they reach the abattoir and this shows in the quality of Peelham's meat.
Peelham feel that they have been working against the grain of the subsidy system - especially in taking an arable farm back to a mixed livestock system. The arable area payments discouraged this, although the single farm payment then opened the door to it. Their strategy, both in the past and looking to the future, is to make decisions about the management of the farm without taking subsidies into account and then to apply for anything which is appropriate.
Peelham Farm steading
They run a BHS-Approved equestrian centre and cross country course and occasionally host equestrian groups and overnight camping space for other large groups like bike rides. They do not have accommodation on the farm but provide the catering for these events which provides a welcome additional income. Possible future activities include selling to the local authority for school meals, growing field vegetables, putting up a wind turbine and installing an anaerobic digester .