Jim, you’re new to the team here at RC - tell us a bit about you..
So yes, I’ve just joined - it’s my first week! I’ve been in agriculture for pretty much all my life. I grew up on a small farm, mainly raising livestock for ourselves – we did a bit of everything really. After that, I went into agricultural contracting, and most of that was arable, but I then started getting into the livestock side of it and found that I really enjoyed it - so that is what I now do primarily.
I will be the Farm Manager here at River Cottage. As we progress and increase our production, we will be looking to add a few more members into the team.
What drew you to working for River Cottage and what’s something you’re really excited to work on?
I think it was the idea of persuing sustainable and regenerative agriculture. You see a lot of people who have a couple of acres doing this, and that’s fantastic, but you don’t see many larger-scale farms doing this, so if I can be one of the people doing this then I would like to be!
I’m probably most excited to work on the revival of rare breeds. This is something I’m really passionate about. We’ll eventually be looking to re-introduce cattle, sheep, goats, chicken and ducks to the farm as well as get more pigs!
Initially, what are the main projects you’ll be working on in your first year..
We’re currently setting up the infrastructure for the farm - at present we only have a small amount of livestock so now’s the perfect time to do so because it means we can remove boundaries and put them back in in a more sustainable way and make sure we are ready for when we do take on more stock. (We don’t want to have a herd of cattle whilst we’re trying to do all the fencing then and there!)
We’ll also be rebuild our chicken pens and making sure they are completely safe for new birds to go into, and then we will gradually start introducing new species of livestock, and specifically rare breeds of livestock as well. We’re determined to make sure we have a variety of rare breeds to try and increase the population of those breeds – instead of commercial breeds, we would like to see breeds like our existing Oxford Sandy and Black pigs here, not only because they are a lovely looking pig, but 20 years ago they were nearly at extinction level. The population is doing better now, but is nowhere near where it could be, so we’d like to help with this. We’ll be getting some new weaners in pretty soon!
In terms of sustainable agriculture, can you tell us a bit more about what this means in terms of the projects you’ll be working on..
We’ll be following environmental regulations to make sure we are creating a sustainable and regenerative landscape. For example, we’ll be removing bracken from some of the fields so we can ensure we have native grasses and wildflowers growing. We’ll be working with the Countryside Stewardship in this process, and they will be helping us to achieve our goals in this area. Hedgerows have been used as field dividers for thousands of years, because they’re a natural stock-proof barrier, and they encourage bird-nesting and pollinators. I remember on an old episode of River Cottage – Hugh did some work around hedgerows, so that’s one to re-watch! We’re putting in lots of new hedgerow this year – this will take a couple of years to become established to a point where it’s stock-proof. We’re also going to be cornering off portions of the fields to leave wild for wildlife and pollinators as part of The Countryside Stewardship programme to increase biodiversity.
I’d also like to use chestnut posts for our fencing – which are more traditional and not dipped in preservative chemicals. They add a bit of character too!
In general, we’re also working towards making the site more self-sufficient. For example, we’re going to try and ensure that for our charcuterie courses, we’ll have a River Cottage pig to teach from.
…It’s at this point that Jonny our gardener popped by to ask if he could feed some garden scraps to the pigs, which sparked some further conversation...
We’re trying to have as little waste as we can and that includes feeding garden scraps to the pigs which is also a bit of a treat for them – it’s like if you were to be eating a mixture of porridge oats all the time and you then get to have an exciting salad and a different flavour!
Is there any message you would give to people who are considering setting up their own smallholding?
I would say – decide on what their end goal is and decide on whether they’d be happy to take an animal to slaughter (if they’re going down the livestock route). For example, if they’re not comfortable sending a pig to slaughter at the right time, they would be left with an animal that will keep gaining weight (a full-grown boar can reach around 300kg and around 6-7 foot long!) which will be extremely strong (and extremely hungry). This is the main point I would stress to people.
What will your average day look like on site..
At the moment, it’s mainly looking after the current stock and I'm in the planning stages for the future e.g. sourcing new machinery as we’re starting afresh on a lot of fronts. My average day will always involve checking the welfare of all the animals, providing them with food and water and making sure they’re all healthy. Then also general maintenance of the farm and making sure everything is all running tickety-boo!