Here at Nortons Dairy we run a mixed farming system – an increasing rarity in a land where factory farming and “economies of scale” are the norm. Mixed farming involves running a system of livestock and arable crops from the same farm and traditionally involves a broad range of crops and livestock being grown and raised, with the advantage of spreading the risk of any one crop failing in a given year.
For us, this involves raising our herd of Brown Swiss dairy cows alongside an arable rotation that includes wheat, barley, sugar beet, fodder and energy crops. We are able to grow up to 70% of the food required by our cows; this is largely comprised of fresh grass over the summer months with grass and maize silage through the winter months. Growing wheat and barley means that we have a plentiful supply of straw that is used as bedding for our animals during the cooler months, ensuring they are clean, dry and cosy throughout the winter.
A plentiful by-product on a dairy farm is manure, which is an incredibly valuable resource for a mixed farm like ours. The farmyard manure is used as a soil conditioner and enhancer; providing a valuable source of nitrogen that is essential for healthy crop growth. While this does not eliminate our need for artificial inputs, it does reduce the amounts of fertiliser we are spreading which has both economic and environmental benefits.
A further benefit of mixed farming is the ability to rotate arable crops and also include feed crops such as grass meadows. Rotation allows the cycles of pests and diseases to be broken naturally and prevents the build-up of crop-specific diseases in the soil. Also, while animals graze the meadows they are naturally fertilising the soil via their inevitable production of manure!
By its very nature, a mixed farm provides a mixture of habitats which in-turn supports a variety of wildlife. We maintain natural, mixed hedgerows as boundaries around the majority of our fields which act as wind brakes and stock fencing for us while providing nesting sites and food for some of the most loved of British birds. In addition to this, we maintain generous field margins which provide homes and cover for ground-nesting birds and a source of nectar for pollinators. We also set aside a percentage of our land each year to the growth of mixed environmental crops, specifically formulated to provide year-round ecological benefits. It is in our best interests to maintain a diverse ecosystem on the farm as we benefit not only from the pollinating services of bees and other flying insects, but also the pest control provided by the bird life as they feed themselves and their young.