We have always been a mixed farm and have  farmed sympathetically with nature since moving to Boycefield. However, since Billy returned home from Harper Adams University in 2020 we have fully embraced a more regenerative way of doing things. A key aspect of this is soil health. Soil is a finite resource and many modern farming practices result in the depletion of it. It is the resource the sustains all of humanity and can play a vital role in combating climate change if managed appropriately. For us as farmers it is our most important asset, if our soils cease to function, so to does our business, so we're on a mission to keep it and our farm ecosystem healthy! 

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What We're Up To:

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Mob Grazing!

We use electric fencing to split our fields up into smaller sections which the livestock graze for just 48 hours at a time before we move them on. They then don't return to that area for 30-50 days - plenty of time for the grass to fully regrow. We aim to graze a third, trample a third and leave a third of the grass behind. This means that the livestock, the soil and the grass are all being kept happy. Essentially the idea is to mimic nature by simulating the behavior of wild herbivores found in places such as the African Savanna. Here animals typically graze an area for a short period of time before they are moved on by predators. it is short duration, high impact mob grazing.

Direct Drilling!

Traditionally crops are established by first ploughing the land, then working it, before drilling seed into it. Instead of this we are just slotting the seed directly into the ground in one operation. The process of ploughing is detrimental to soil health as it essentially turns the whole soil ecosystem onto its head. It also causes carbon to be released and destructures the soil. direct drilling does not move any soil so the life within, most notably the earthworm population is not disrupted. soil structure is maintained and nitrogen and other nutrients are retained in the field rather than being leached off into nearby water courses by heavy rainfall. 

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Cover Cropping!

Over winter instead of leaving fields bare after they have been harvested we plant a diverse mixture of plants that are designed to shield the soil from the weather and feed the life within it with sugary plant exudes. We plant mixes including: Clover, Vetch, Linseed, Phacelia, Radish, Mustard, Buckwheat & Sunflowers. The varying rooting architectures of the diverse mix help structure the soil at varying levels and legumes in the mix fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil helping reduce our dependence of artificial fertilisers. We graze the cover crops with lambs over winter who help cycle the nutrients back into the soil by converting the cover crops into dung!

Compost!

Being a mixed farm we have lots of manure. We now compost this manure for a few different reasons; The finished compost is a more balanced product, having a suitable C:N ratio for it to be easily utilised by the soil life, this means it will be converted to humus more quickly and remain in the soil as stable organic matter. The compost should in theory contain the correct balance of beneficial bacteria, actinomycetes and fungi and act as a microbial inoculant for the soil.  Composting the FYM relies upon keeping it aerobic so that the microorganisms that are responsible for the process have access to oxygen. To ensure this is the case, we turn the manure using a seacalist machine.

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Intercropping!

We have been using what is described as a 'clover living mulch' to grow some of our cereal crops in. The living mulch is a permanent under story of clover that exists beneath the harvestable crop that is growing in the field. The clover forms a symbiotic relationship with the cereal crop and helps provide it with nitrogen fixed from the atmosphere, enabling us to cut back our use of fertiliser. it also acts as a weed suppressing carpet meaning we can use less herbicides. once the cereal crop is harvested in the summer the clover is in place ready to start immediately capturing sunlight and pumping carbon into the soil.

Wildlife Conservation!

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Conservation is very important to us. We farm in a way that is sympathetic to nature and across the farm we’ve created an array of areas that are designed to benefit wildlife and the environment. Here at Boycefield conservation of wildlife and the environment is very important to us. Here farming and nature coexist and we work hard to ensure the farm ecosystem thrives & works as a whole and we play our part in aiding local nature recovery

Winter Bird Feed!

Across our farm we grow various areas of winter bird seed. These are grown to help provide food resources for farmland birds during the winter months when they can be at risk of experiencing a ‘hungry gap’ when natural sources of seeds and grains dry up. The bird seed mixtures contain but are not limited to plants such as fodder radish, quinoa, millet, barley, sunflowers and mustard. Planted either as an one year annual crop or two year perennial. We try and use the least productive/most awkward areas of a field to grow the bird seed crop, but it’s also important they are located in close proximity to habitat, normally in the form of a hedge so sometimes compromises have to be made.

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Hedges!

We’ve currently got 18km of hedgerow on our farm. This equates to over 20 acres worth, and practically every field on the farm is enclosed by one! They’re vital for an array of wildlife and wildflowers, but also for our livestock, arable crops and slowing overland flow! Our livestock use hedges and the hedgerow trees to shelter from a range of weather events. From the heat of the summer to cold depths of the winter, helping them thermoregulate and stay dry. Hedgerows are absolutely bustling with biodiversity. From nesting birds, to burrowing mammals, pollinators and beneficial predatory insects. The base of the hedgerows are also often home to a lovely selection of wildflowers.

'There can be no life without soil and no soil without life they have evolved together'    Dr. Charles Kellogg

Visit from the West Midlands Bird Ringing Group!

We recently had some members of the West Midland Bird Ringing Group out to the farm to carry out night-time surveys of the bird population here at Boycefield. Using thermal imaging cameras, they were able to identify a great range of birds roosting in some of our direct-drilled cereal crops including woodcocks, snipe, jack snipe and meadow pipits. They were also lucky enough to catch a skylark, fieldfare and a redwing which were all subsequently weighed, measured, ringed and then released.

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