Chickens Join Regenerative Revolution on Norfolk Livestock Farm
Free-range chickens have become the last pieces of the regenerative farming ‘puzzle’ on a farm in Norfolk – where they will work with grazing cows to revitalize the soil.
About 200 Goldline hens have arrived at Eves Hill Farm in Booton, near Reepham, adding a new source of income for a breeding business that already manages a herd of purebred Hereford cattle.
But farmer Jeremy Buxton said they’re not just there to provide delicious free-range eggs.
The chickens will be rotated around small pasture pens behind the ‘crowd grazing’ livestock, sanitizing and fertilizing the soil as part of a natural nutrient cycle aimed at nourishing the soil, strengthening animal health and improving soil quality. food quality, while reducing the need for artificial foods. chemical.
Mr Buxton is convinced that this circular system of regenerative agriculture, focused on preserving vital soils, could help the industry meet its challenges related to climate change.
“Our priorities have completely changed,” he said. “On the regenerative transition journey we are taking, the big picture is our top priority for soil health. We are cultivating the soil now. The plants that come out of the soil are totally secondary.
“Hens play an important role in improving the health of the soil, spending 98 hours behind the cattle cleaning up the pasture, digging up cow dung and fertilizing the pasture themselves at the same time.
“The timing is quite important because a thriving population of dung beetles is vital for the health of the soil. During these 98 hours, it is calculated that the dung beetles will have had time to come and go, so the hens do not destroy this. during the beetle population.
“But the hens come in and feed on fly larvae and any other invertebrates. It’s extra nutrition, it cuts down on the food bill, and it all adds to the quality of the eggs they produce.
“So we have good soil health and we produce very good, high quality free-range eggs. Cattle and chickens really complement each other in this regenerating soil health puzzle. “
Mr Buxton hopes this approach could also reduce fly problems for his livestock, as insect eggs are eaten by chickens.
The hens are currently in a temporary shed awaiting the construction of their homemade “egg-mobile”, built on an old caravan chassis, which will take them to the field next week and provide them with shelter when they arrive. are not on the course.
After high-intensity grazing by cattle and chickens generates a high density of various manure and microbes to nourish the soil, the animals move, leaving the pasture to rest and regenerate for at least 60 days.
Grazing animals also bring benefits in arable fields. During the winter months, cows graze on cover crops of ryegrass, clover, vetches, turnips, kale and forage rapeseed, which are planted to protect the soil and improve soil structure. between cash crops.
The effects of grazing and natural fertilizers on arable soils and pastures are monitored using GPS-mapped soil sampling applications, measuring factors such as number of worms and water infiltration.
Mr Buxton said these data will provide a baseline for future decisions on natural soil nutrition, guided by interpretations from regenerative agriculture consultants and a specialist agronomist in Canada.
As part of its zero waste philosophy, the 250-acre farm also “recycles” farmyard manure, animal bedding waste and wood chips to make its own bokashi, a fermented organic nutrient that can be used as compost. or extracted as a natural seed dressing.
Mr Buxton added that his flock of chickens could grow to 1,000 birds as the farm’s regeneration journey continues.
“I really feel like we’re at the start of an agricultural revolution and it’s rekindling people’s enthusiasm for farming again,” he said.
“The more you study regenerative agriculture, the more sense it makes. I don’t want to upset commercial farmers, everyone’s doing a great job, but we’ve interfered with this natural cycle, this nutrient cycle, to the detriment of the soil health and food quality.
“We try to imitate nature, not to interfere. We try to walk away and let nature do its job.”