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Sustainable Shakespeare - Sustainable Farming at Mary Arden’s Farm

Farm Manager Isabelle Butterworth looks at how sustainable practices are being used at Mary Arden’s Farm.

Isabelle Butterworth

For the last few years, Mary Arden's Farm has opted to be an organic farm (accredited by the Soil Association), meaning that we farm as sustainably as possible and reduce practices that can damage the environment (such as use of harsh chemicals, blanket antibiotic treatment and blanket worming programmes for our stock). The feed that we provide for our animals is crucial to being accredited as organic. We make sure that our stocking levels are suitable for the amount of grazing we have, reducing damage to fields by overgrazing and poaching. We utilise off-site grazing and save several fields to produce our own organic hay and silage, which feeds our animals through the winter months. As part of managing this hay, and the grazing fields, we make sure that there are no invasive plant species growing in our fields, such as ragwort. We pick all of this out by hand before the first cut of hay. This means our animals can eat the hay without the risk of becoming Ill, as ragwort can cause damage to the liver and to skin. As ragwort can also affect humans, by removing it from our fields, we help mitigate its spread in the local area.

A lambe creche at Mary Arden's Farm. One sheep in the bottom right of the frame looks cutely at the camera, while in the middle distance young lamb sleeps on a horned sheep's back. There are fifteen sheep in total surrounded on the hay-lined floor of their enclosure.

Recycle and Reuse

We do order some hard feed from an organic company. Over the last year we have moved to a supplier who gives use feed in paper bags rather than plastic. Every year in the UK there is an estimated 135,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated by farming alone. We are doing our part to reduce our reliance on plastic and making sure we reuse and recycle wherever possible. For example, our paper feed bags are now re-used to line the bottom of chicken coops. Not only does this find another use for the bag but it means we can reduce the amount of wood shavings we need and make cleaning out easier as well.

We keep plastic water cups and bottles for planting and growing seeds, as well as using them to protect planting from birds when they are out in the allotment. Something that many people would throw away is being reused at our farm.

Many of our seeds for growing this year’s crop of pumpkins have been taken from last year's pumpkins. To make sure nothing was wasted, the pumpkins which were not picked on our pumpkin picking day, or eaten by our pigs, were cut open and the seeds taken out. They were dried and stored for replanting this year. This has helped save on cost and is also a good way to ensure we can grow pumpkins again for this autumn.

Pigs for Ploughing

In the days of Mary Arden's being a Tudor farm Oxen (trained cattle) would have been used to help plough the fields. They were slower than horses and more suited to the early Tudor equipment. While we do still have an old Ox called Iago at Mary Arden's, he is now retired and doesn't help with the ploughing anymore. We do however make use of our various breeds of pigs. The pigs are released into the field after the crops have been harvested and get to work ploughing the fields with their noses and feet. In fact, pigs have a natural instinct for rooting so it is good for their welfare as well as providing our land with benefits. Pigs do a more thorough job of ploughing, reduce soil compaction and pig manure is also great for crop nutrition eliminating the need for any other fertiliser.

A horned sheep looks at the camera, bleating, while snuggled up to their young lamb.

Reducing Reliance on Non-organic Colostrum

Spring is especially exciting with lambing and kidding here at the farm. We have already welcomed three rare breed English goats and we have increased the numbers of this breed for several years. We are hopeful that their numbers will continue to rise with recognition from the Rare Breed Survival Trust as a priority breed.

To reduce our reliance on any non-organic and shop-bought colostrum (the first milk produced by mothers after their babies are born), our farm team milk ewes and nannies within the hours of them giving birth. This means we have extra supplies to give to other lambs whose mother may struggle to produce enough milk. By doing this we reduce cost, reduce our reliance on shop bought powder alternatives and give the lambs the best possible immunity. As it takes so long to do this initial milking, it is not something undertaken by many farms, however, it is the most natural way we can provide colostrum from another ewe from the flock so we think it is worth the effort.