20 Changes We’ve Noticed at Godminster Farm Since Going Organic
This year marks 20 years since Richard Hollingbery created his very first batch of Godminster Vintage Organic Cheddar. Over these two decades we’ve noticed a lot of changes on our farm and in the world around us – and here’s 20 of them to mark our anniversary!
Increasing Organic Awareness
More and more people around the world are beginning to realise that organic is about more than just pesticides! Here at Godminster Farm, organic is as much a commitment to biodiversity and working with nature as it is anything else. Increasing awareness of the Soil Association’s work with their yearly ‘Wake Up to Organic’ and Organic September campaigns introducing more and more people every year to new organic food and drink brands.
…Leading to Higher Employment
Twenty years ago, Richard Hollingbery himself was selling Godminster truckles at Wincanton Farmers Market… fast-forward to today and Godminster now employs over 30 people!
Cleaner water at Godminster Farm
We have fewer pollutants entering the water system from the fields due to our organic farming practices. We’ve also spent time planting reedbeds (phragmites australis) around the farm buildings to purify any yard runoff before it enters the watercourse.
A Healthier Herd
Our 320-strong herd of Godminster Girls are calmer than their counterparts 20 years ago, thanks to our breeding for the organic system plus the replacement of all farm buildings which allows cleaner beds for the cattle, more regular and automatic cleaning of the feed passageways, and good airflow within each building which reduces the chances of pneumonia.
…And a Happier Herd Too!
Not only are they a healthy herd, but the Godminster girls are happier too! We’ve recently installed cattle brushes, which they absolutely adore.
Farming technology is radically different from what it was 20 years ago! At Godminster Farm we now use special ‘moo-vement trackers’ that let us monitor rumen activity – any reduction in activity usually indicates the onset of illness and these transponders give us the ability us to pick up these changes immediately and therefore enables us to treat cows sooner – and therefore avoid the use of antibiotics!
Our burgundy-coloured Godminster tractor has a brilliant Sat Nav! Once the driver has programmed in the piece of equipment he is using then the vehicle does the rest. The result of this is a reduction of overlapping whilst working in the fields meaning the job is done faster, as well as a reduction of fuel usage and making sure that valuable seed is not wasted.
Our young calves are housed with their peers in groups of 4-6 in scientifically designed open-air calf ‘hutches’. They will remain with this group for the rest of their lives which is better for herd welfare plus the hutches are deep cleaned between every batch of calves, which makes for stronger, healthier cows.
Over the years we’ve developed our organic herd for increased solids in milk quality (both butterfat and protein) which is always popular with cheesemakers as it produces a better yield of cheese!
Lower Crop Yields
One downside of organic farming is that the lack of GMO means our crop yields are lower, which also explains why the prices for organic goods are sometimes higher. On the plus side, it does mean that there are more ‘weeds’ in the crops which encourages a greater diversity of fauna to live within them!
With increased organic matter in the soil comes increased worm counts and improved soil structure – all good things for happy and healthy farm. Organic systems also require a reduction in stocking density which, in turn, reduces soil compaction.
In the twenty years since going organic, our farm manager Pete has worked hard to create better quality silage for our herd, as well as increasing the proportion of home-grown forage. We also include plenty of natural herbs throughout the fields and cattle tracks, giving our girls plenty of opportunities to munch on all kinds of helpful herbs to help with their digestion and maintain mineral metabolism.
Much like the margin of a sheet of paper, farming margins are the areas around a field that are left unattended so that wildlife can flourish. This leaves plenty of space for animals and birds to hide away while tractors work the earth – which is all a part of fostering the rich biodiversity on Godminster Farm. This leaves space for undisturbed nesting areas as well as maintaining habitat for a multitude of insects to flourish which, in turn, nourishes the birds and other animals that are now thriving at Godminster Farm.
As part of our hedgerow management, we coppice in a traditional way and encourage wildlife to thrive throughout the year, as well as planting approximately 4 miles of new hedges. As a result, our hedgerows are bursting with life!
Everyone will have seen the headlines that bee populations are at dangerous levels – this is one of the sadder changes we’ve noticed in the past twenty years. But luckily we still have plenty of good bee activity at Godminster Farm and we’re looking to introduce more hives to the farm in the next few years. Watch this space. This year seems to be particularly prolific for bumblebees at Godminster!
Thrushes, sparrows, goldfinch, long-tailed tits – we’ve seen more of these around the farm than ever before. Not to mention our occasional swans – and more winter visitors such as snipe, fieldfares, redwing, and woodcock are stopping over at Godminster Farm too!
Along with our bees and birds, we’ve got a wider array of insects across the farm than ever before – wandering around our farm you might notice anthills, damselflies, hoverflies, ladybirds, beetles, blue butterflies, and hawkmoths.
So important that they deserved their own heading! Majestic barn owls swooping over the Godminster fields are a sure sign that our vole population must be very healthy indeed.
As part of our commitment to organic, Richard has planted over 25,000 broadleaf trees at Godminster Farm. These native trees include all oak varieties, ash, black walnut, wild cherry, hazel, willow, and hornbeam and these play an important part in creating habitats for the wildlife that live on Godminster Farm as well as leaving a timber crop to harvest for the next generation.
The shrubs and smaller trees such as bullace, rowan, crab apple, and guelder rose also provide a valuable food source for animals before going into the difficult winter months.
And finally… Organic Sales are Booming!
Total organic sales across the UK totalled £2.45 billion last year, which is great news for organic producers and consumers alike. Having first sold in Wincanton Farmer’s Market, truckles of Godminster cheese can now be found in over 15 countries around the world!