Field Event Reports

10 February 2016 - Manor Farm, Marcham

Leader: Neil Rowe, Farm manager

Our visit started at the Beef Unit

On a cold and dank morning, an excellent group of 19 members gathered 10.00am at Manor Farm and donned Wellington boots. We were met outside the Beef Production unit by our host Neil Rowe. Perhaps the rather stark open-sided building with moon-eyed cattle staring out signalled this was just another farmyard 'barn' filled with chomping bovines. Nothing could be further from the truth – we spent well over one-and-a-half hours slowly circling the unit as Neil explained what turned out to be, unlike traditional UK beef units, a very modern approach to raising beef cattle – a sustainable business, in a sustainable environment, backed by sound science. It would be too lengthy to go into much detail here as Neil conveyed an immense amount of information that kept us all attentive. In summary he explained:

  1. The history and background of the new breed of cattle developed by the Stabiliser Cattle Company that had been developed to suit the new regime. This 'Stabiliser' breed is a cross of traditional British and Continental breeds and producesconsistently high-eating quality beef for least cost from forage-based systems. Manor Farm produces all its own stock and every animal is genetically tested to maintain purity. A royalty fee of £28 per steer is payable to the breed owners.
  2. The programme for raising the cattle form calving to slaughter at 14 to 16 months. The unit has its own bulls and carving occurs in autumn (unlike spring in most traditional farming) and calves remain with their mothers for many more months than in other regimes.
  3. The system of feeding including the particular structure of stall grills that allowed just one daily feeding operation for the fattening steers (rather that two, thus saving manpower) and another form of grill that allowed calves to reach food, but which prevented them from escaping from the barn!
  4. The pioneering structure of the barn and its heating and lighting system, including orientation of the stalls, that provided an environment best suited to the needs and biology of the cattle – temperature and access to light in particular seemed to produce 'happy' cows.
  5. How the farm was virtually self-sufficient in providing forage (we examined various types of silage in huge bays).
  6. The challenging problems that UK Beef production and marketing faces in the national and international market.


… the list could go on!

The most bizarre and humorous moment came when Neil explained that straw had to be added to the silage mix to ensure the right level of fibre. When asked how this is tested we were quickly escorted to one of the stalls where the steers were busily chewing the cud. Twenty people then latched onto one individual and counted each grinding chew it made. At 72, as the steer swallowed, Neil exclaimed 'perfect mixture of fibre – that's how its done!

Perhaps this rather crude measure of testing an important factor masked the real science that goes into raising these beef cattle. Every aspect of their lives from birth to death was controlled by various tests, the overriding philosophy being that a healthy and happy individual is the most productive and efficient for producing the final product – high-quality beef, economically, with the lowest possible carbon footprint.

As time approached midday, we took a much needed walk (not the least to warm up rather cold feet) farther into the farm. Our first stop was a field of grass and clover. This would be the first field into which the cattle were turned out in the spring and Neil explained the rotation system of feeding during the warmer months – again scientifically determined. For the 'birders', there was a surprising view of some 200 gulls wading and feeding at the far end of the field that was flooded by the Ock. Within the flock, five species of gull were identified (including the unusual Yellow-legged Gull and Greater Black-backed Gull) and one solitary Shelduck.

Our final walk took us past the lake and brook that was itself a wildlife haven onto the protected riverside meadow that was notable for its Wild Celery (Apium graveolens), which was visible in the sodden turf. Apparently the name ‘Marcham’ derives from Anglo-Saxon meaning ‘riverside meadow where the Wild Celery grows’.

While the purpose of the visit was not to specifically see the wild life, 28 species of bird were indentified and a lonesome Muntjac skirted one of the fields.

We returned to the Beef Unit where great thanks were conveyed to Neil for a most interesting visit that certainly gave us new perspectives on all aspects of the work on Marcham Farm. There can be no doubt about the enthusiasm and passion that Neil has for his work – work that has won him several awards and made him an internationally recognised consultant.

Graham Bateman

Birds noted:
House Sparrow; Chaffinch; Goldfinch; Greenfinch; Siskin; Blue Tit; Great Tit; Robin; Blackbird; Song Thrush; Fieldfare; Carrion Crow; Rook; Jackdaw; Buzzard; Kestrel; Red Kite; Mute Swan; Canada Goose; Shelduck; Mallard; Coot; Black-headed Gull; Yellow-legged Gull; Herring Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Greater Black-backed Gull; Pheasant.
Katherine Hayle; Cynth Knapper; David Perrow;Chris and Bridget Biggs; David Guyoncourt; Ian Smith; John Killick; Graham Bateman; Adrian Allsop; Michael Bloom; Elizabeth & Alan Drury; Jackie Hudson; Tony Richmond; Martin and Janet Buckland; Eleanor Dangerfield; Jo Cartmell.
19 attendees

Michael Bloom's Gallery