With Organic September upon us, we wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the amazing animals that make our organic business enterprise possible. The origins of Coombe Farm don't lie in livestock, as we started off as purely an organic dairy farm. However the by-product of milk production was the many calves that were born within the dairy herd, and an outlet was needed for them. So, a beef rearing unit was built at Coombe Farm and our bull calves were then reared on before being sold at market. Ben, the founder of Coombe Farm Organic - (the direct retail part of the farming business), saw an opportunity to make more of these animals and instead see the unique process of rearing through to slaughter - adopting a nose to tail philosophy and selling the organic meat in the form of meat boxes, delivered to customers doors.
This was the perfect solution and to this day, allows both the production of organic milk and organic meat to work in harmony. It also proved popular with customers and since, we've diversified from only keeping cattle, to keeping our own flock of sheep and in the last couple of years extended our animal family to include organic pigs too.
Why rear our animals in an organic welfare system? Well, as we've produced organic dairy for over twenty years, we know there are many benefits - including its contribution to the environment and our health, but let’s look at it from the animal’s point of view. We have respect for our animals and what they provide for us, and believe they deserve the best life possible. So for us, organic farming was the only way. Our animals are free to roam outdoors in plenty of space and fresh air allowing them to exhibit their natural behaviours. Flock and herd sizes are smaller, animals are fed non-GM, natural diets, have access to organic pasture and routine use of antibiotics are not permitted.
To produce our beef, we cross our dairy cows with Hereford or Shorthorn breeds. This produces a shorter and stockier animal, which is well-suited to our grass-fed system and the fact that they live outside for much of the year - only coming into the shelter of the barns in the Winter months. With organic beef, the focus is on slow-growing; allowing them to come to natural maturity rather than trying to speed this process up. We rear our cattle to at least 22 months, before taking to them a small abattoir just 7 miles away - minimising stress to the animal. All of this influences the way their meat tastes and cooks asnd the reward for rearing beef in an organic system comes in the form of the highest quality, well marbled meat. The proof of this is not only from the amazing customer feedback we receive, but also from the awards that it has won. Only a few weeks ago we were awarded Gold by The Taste of the West for our Organic T-bone Steak and our Organic Beef Steak Mince.
In terms of our sheep, we rear one breed - the Lleyn Ewe. We're big fans of this breed because they're a hardy sort and require little intervention from us, meaning they can really live as nature intended. They lamb easily and are quite content grazing our organic, clover rich pasture without the need for any cereal supplements. We believe that it's better for animals to grow at the rate nature intended and it means they have well-developed muscle with a natural, palatable covering of sweet fat. Our organic Whole Shoulder of Lamb recently won gold from Taste of the West awards; another feather in our cap as a result of our farmer's dedication and our skilled butchers.
And last but not least, our organic pigs. For us, this is one of the most significant differences in rearing organically versus conventionally. Pigs are playful and social animals. They follow powerful natural instincts that drive them to rootle, wallow, run, bask and nest. And if they’re denied the ability to do these things they become stressed, anxious and aggressive. Under Soil Association standards, nose ringing, tail docking or teeth cutting are prohibited but due to the high-welfare system of rearing organic pigs, they are simply not required.
At Coombe Farm, we rear Gloucester Old Spot pigs which we've started to breed with a British Lop Boar, a heritage breed that will add a little more length to the animals. These are both native breeds that thrive in the conditions we have down in the West Country. They live outdoors all year, with access to pig arks so they can shelter from the rain and sun. They live in spacious outdoor paddocks in sociable groups of no more than ten, with animals of a similar age and size. This means they have plenty of room to run about, play, scratch and make muddy wallows. Very importantly, all of the sows are allowed to farrow (give birth) outside, so they can indulge in the almost ritualistic nest-building process that their instincts dictate.
Living outdoors is obviously vital for the well being of these intelligent creatures, but it’s also vital for the production of top-quality pork. Muscles that have had plenty of active exercise produce flavoursome meat with great texture. And the thick skins that the pigs develop to withstand chilly weather translate into excellent crackling. In industrial systems, pigs are routinely given antibiotics to fend off diseases that are spread due to the high density of the population. This never happens with our organic, outdoor pigs – their lifestyle gives them effective natural immune systems, and their diet of grass, hay and organic cereals helps them grow at the rate nature intended.
We are very proud of the organic meat we produce at Coombe Farm Organic. It's a collective effort from our farmers who take the very best care of our animals, the butchers who meticulously trim the carcasses, to the warehouse staff that hand pick and pack the meat boxes and the small office team that work tirelessly behind the scenes. We believe Organic September is a time to be reflective of organic farming and everything it represents in a time where we, as a nation, are becoming more aware of our food choices and the greater impact it has beyond our dinner plates; on our health, animal welfare and the environment.