We farm 200 acres in the Yorkshire Dales between 2 farms and the wide-open space of the Howgill Fells. Birks Farm is just outside Sedbergh alongside the river rawthey where all of our start of life farming calves, lambs and weans pigs occurs as they enter the world. Murthwaite Farm sits at 1,000ft on the boundary of the fell wall where our cattle and sheep have the freedom to graze Ravenstonedale Common (part of the Howgill Fells).
We are the 5th generation of our family to farm in this area and we continue many of the traditional farming practices that support low intensity livestock production. Our native breed Galloway Cattle are the perfect match to the rugged terrain and harsh winter weather alongside our native fell sheep with their heavy woollen fleece, both of them converting the herbs, grasses and legumes of the uplands into flavoursome meat without the need for environmentally damaging supplements. The frame and balance of small and stocky Galloway cattle makes them the perfect conservation grazer, breaking up the soil crust to improve flood resilience and promote fresh seeds to produce improved forage for the sheep.
Berkshire pigs are one of the oldest breeds of pig in England and categorised as an “at risk” rare breed despite being renowned worldwide as the “wagyu of pork” or “Kurobuta pork” in Japan, commanding a premium price because of the quality of the meat. Notwithstanding the desire to preserve the breed that fed Cromwell at Reading during the English Civil War and the progeny of the “ace of spades” bred by Queen Victoria, we farm Berkshire pigs because their black skin makes them more resilient to sunburn and more adaptable in outdoor free range systems.
Our low intensity farming system precludes the need for prophylactic antibiotics and the anthelmintic herbs that we promote throughout the farm minimise the parasite burden to make our meat as natural and healthy as possible. Having given our livestock the best possible life, we transport them to the abattoir (14 miles away) ourselves to minimise stress as the animals know us, where they are housed overnight to further reduce stress and improve the quality of the meat.
In 2015 we set out to make the farm energy independent and installed a small 28kW on-farm anaerobic digester. This system digests all of the farm waste and harvests the methane to produce electricity and heat, making the farm a carbon sink as we export excess electricity into the National Grid and offset electricity produced from more harmful fuels.
Brian is a former soldier and uses the farm to support a number of armed forces veterans that are struggling with the transition to civilian life each year through the Rawthey Project.