19th February 2020: FAI Farms, Wytham
Leader: Jo Copping and Pete Hobbs, FAI Farms
On a cold and wet February day, eight Abingdon Naturalists members were welcomed to FAI Farms by Jo Copping and Pete Hobbs. FAI has around 1200 acres of grass fields at Wytham, which are grazed by their 70 Aberdeen Angus cattle and approximately 380 sheep. They also have about 1200 free range egg-laying hens. We learned that FAI stands for Food Animal Initiative, and that the company was started in 2000. Jo and Pete explained that FAI farms according to the 'Three EE's principle', in that every aspect of their farming must be Economically viable, Environmentally sound, and Ethically acceptable.
Given the proximity of FAI Farms to Oxford University's Field Station, it was not a surprise to learn that FAI works collaboratively with University researchers. Scientists are currently investigating badger-cattle interactions, and have installed night vision trailcams on posts around the fields where the cattle graze. This will provide important information to help understand how TB might be being passed from badgers to cattle, and vice versa. We were taken to see some of the cattle which are currently housed in barns for the winter.
In future, FAI intends to let their cattle graze outdoors during the winter instead of bringing them inside. Pete and Jo explained that outwintering their cattle is part of FAI's ethos of 'regenerative agriculture', in which grass fields are grazed intensively for a year and then rested for the whole of the following year to allow the grass to regenerate. Outwintering cattle will be more environmentally sustainable as it will reduce the farm's usage of diesel fuel for growing grain for animal feed, and for providing straw for bedding. Regenerative agriculture may also enable FAI Farms to reduce the number of times they need to worm their lambs with veterinary vermicides. This is because the life cycle of parasitic worms can be broken by giving the grass a whole year's break between one generation of lambs grazing it, and the next.
Perhaps the highlight of our visit was when we were taken into the free range hen enclosure. Hundreds of hens dashed over and crowded around our feet eagerly pecking at our wellies seeking grubs.
As descendants of wild jungle fowl, chickens are much less stressed, and therefore lay more eggs, if they are able to run under the canopy of trees when buzzards and other birds of prey fly over. The hen enclosures at FAI Farms have been planted with a mixture of different trees and the hens can come and go as they choose, between their warm dry sheds and the outdoors. Despite the inclement weather, we all enjoyed the visit and returned home with our boxes of freshly gathered free range eggs.
More information about FAI Farms can be found on their website www.faifarms.com
- Abingdon Naturalists members Joy Hobbs, Jill Gant, Graham Bateman, Sally Gillard, Michael Bloom, Marion Coates, James Leonard, Alison Muldal Muldal
Report: Alison Muldal