Rush Farm is roughly square in shape, extending over 190 acres, and sits like a shallow bowl in the landscape, tilted slightly to the north. There are no public roads traversing the farm, although one of the paths is an “unadopted highway”, which sounds rather more grand than its appearance on the ground would suggest!
In the south is a 20 acre wood and running along the northern boundary is the Bow Brook.
The trees on the farm are mostly oak and ask, although there is a lot of hazel in the wood and willow along the river. The hedges are mostly hawthorn although there is a lot of blackthorn along the eastern boundary, and roses and damsons are to be found everywhere.
The wood is full of spring flowers – primroses and bluebells, and the scent of garlic is strong in May as the Ransomes blossom. There are two footpaths in the wood, the main one runs along the southern perimeter from the western side to the eastern, and the second, a “permissive path”, forms a large “U” shape through the middle of the wood, to provide the same, but somewhat more circuitous route, through the wood as the main footpath.
Being biodynamic organic the farm is a natural haven for wildlife. When traversing a field the walker is likely to disturb a hare or two, causing a brown blur to be seen shooting away at great speed. There are three types of deer to be found, fallow, roe and muntjack. The birdlife is profuse, with larks, lapwings, buzzards, hawks, owls and many many more to be found on the farm’s wetland, pastures and in its hedges and woods. There are also many butterflies to be found, including some rareties, for instance, the brown hairstreak, which will only lay eggs on blackthorn stems on 1 particular day each year, a fussiness that seems somewhat connected to its rariety!
Our commitment to wildlife is supported by funding from Natural England, who have provided “Higher Level Stewardship” grants to support the development of wildlife habitats, for instance, the “flash” midway down the eastern boundary was created with stewardship funds, and a great deal of work in the wood and along the riverbank has also been supported.
The soil is a heavy blue clay, although there is an outcrop of gravelly glacial deposits that was quarried in times-gone-by for material to lay paths. The clay makes working the land difficult, as too much rain renders it impassable (even on foot, crossing a wet field will cause kilograms of mud to accrete to one’s shoes!), and too little rain bakes it like rock and makes working it impossible.
Before the current farmers managed the land it was intensively farmed for wheat. This consumed the organic content of the soil to such an extent that in 2005 when the farm was taken over bricks could have been made from the soil! Restoring the life to the soil was our first priority, and many grass leys were planted. Our biodynamic practice is a central part of our programme to develop the humus content of the soil which makes it more workable.
However difficult the heavy clay is to work, it is still full of rich mineral goodness, and is absolutely ideal for growing grass. And, of course, by growing grass we improve the soil through the mass of roots and the stability of the biological system grass supports in the soil. This means that the land becomes gradually more resilient to the excesses of wet and dry. Being ideal for growing grass means that the farm is focussed on animal husbandry.
The farm has a traditional Hereford cattle herd and Llyn sheep flock. The herd and flock are both “closed”, which means we don’t buy in new stock, but maintain the numbers through the farm’s breeding programme. It is important to keep genetic diversity, so every few years a new bull and new rams are brought in.
The cattle are all allowed to keep their horns, as part of our biodynamic practice. There are over 60 cattle on the farm. There are around 27 breeding cows, with the youngest being around 2 years, and the oldest around 15. Traditional Herefords are smaller the Herefords that are so popular – they have shorter legs – but the longer legged Hereford is a newer breed, having been bred to be exported to America and Australia where the prairie grasses grow longer, and the cattle range over huge distances.
The cattle are very hardy and look after themselves and their young well. However, they are kept in the barn in the winter as they are heavy and would churn the fields into mud if left out. Cattle are extraordinary beasts – strong and self-contained. They could escape from almost any containment the farm can provide, but they don’t, and the farmer finds that they are content to participate in the life of the farm.
The sheep are also hardy and look after themselves and their young well. However, there are many more of them, around 180 breeding ewes. However, even the resilient Llyns, bred on the wild Llyn Peninsular in North Wales, are still sheep and quite different from cattle. It seems rude to say this, but it is true nevertheless, but sheep are much more foolish than cattle!
Cattle produce their young quietly in the corner of a field, and we never really known when this will happen. However, the farmer is given a much greater role in the process of lambing. Sheep can, and often do, produce triplets and quods, but they aren’t good enough mothers to look after so many. Anyway, lambing is a great event each year, and Rush Farm has developed its own particular routines and arrangements over the years.
The life of the farm is documented in the blog, which shares the ups and downs, the decision-making processes, the vagaries of the weather and the consequences for the farm and its inhabitants. Farming being a rather philosophical lifestyle, the blog also explores many other aspects of life’s rich tapestry!