Here at Coombe Farm Organic, we’re incredibly lucky to be surrounded by acres of luscious green pasture. But there’s more to this pasture than meets the eye. There’s way more biodiversity beneath the grass than there is above it, which is why we put so much effort into nurturing our soil. The reward for this effort comes in the shape of the most amazingly nutrient-rich grass.
Good land management is at the heart of our business. It’s a complex process and encompasses everything from crop rotation through fertilisation to understanding ecosystems. But for now we want to look at the idea of grass-fed livestock – specifically why we grow our cattle and sheep at Coombe Farm primarily on grass, and why we think it makes our meat taste the best it can.
Over the years, farming has become very mechanised and in some ways industrialised. While we aren’t averse to embracing technology and scientific advances, we do think they have their place. To us, it makes sense that our ruminant animals should eat grass, as that’s what their systems are designed for. Plus, we have plenty of it here at Coombe Farm. We don’t believe in importing feedstuffs such as soya from overseas to rear animals here in Somerset. We’d much rather embrace the natural resources we have around us and make award-winning produce from it.
Ruminant animals have complex digestive systems that enable them to efficiently break down grass and other plants, extracting every last morsel of nutrition and wasting as little as possible.
Cattle and sheep wouldn’t have traditionally eaten a diet of grain. It’s only done now in our modern era of farming to speed up growth and get animals big and heavy enough for slaughter more quickly. A diet of grass means our animals grow at the rate nature intended, without being hurried along – they live longer and ‘finish’ more slowly than their grain-fed counterparts.
At a time when farming’s a tough industry and profit margins are tight, few farmers choose a system that takes longer. We, however, believe that the little bit of extra time needed for their muscles to mature naturally, means our cattle and sheep produce meat with better flavour and texture. This is probably why, in only our second year of operating as Coombe Farm Organic, we had already picked up awards for our lamb and beef products.
As well as being nourishing, grasslands provide a natural environment for our livestock to live in. Even our pigs and chickens – although not grown solely on grass – thrive on outdoor life, rootling and scratching around, foraging for food and exercising all the while. This is a pivotal part of our farming system, ensuring not only are all of our livestock happy but that they develop robust muscles with excellent texture while building strong bones full of nutritious marrow.
Because we rely mainly on grass to feed our livestock, it means we have to ensure our pastures offer all of the nutrients animals need to grow, develop muscle and lay down fat. The end goal is to grow the best possible animal, with the best possible carcass to make your eating experience sensational.
At Coombe Farm, all of our meat is organic and our farm is Soil Association certified. This means, amongst other things, that we can’t use artificial fertilisers on our land. Instead, we rely on natural slurry from our beef and dairy cattle. It’s a great resource, being both economical and excellent at improving soil health. Applying chemicals to the land in the long term diminishes its quality and results in a vicious cycle of having to apply more and more fertilizer year upon year to ensure the grass is sufficient to support animals.
As well as keeping our livestock happy (which they are when grazing a natural diet and roaming freely), and we want to keep our farmers happy (which they are as they aren’t having to purchase artificial fertilisers), we also want to keep the other inhabitants at Coombe Farm happy, too. The flora and fauna that live in our hedgerows and pastures are a measure of how environmentally healthy our farm is. We’re proud to say that both are flourishing. An abundance of birds, mammals and insects live on our land and their existence is fundamental to ensuring a harmonious future relationship between farming and the environment.