Sometimes you can only stand back and marvel at how well-organised farmers like Keith Siddorn are.
Not just in how they run their farms, but the single-minded, get-things-done practicality they bring to looking after the environment and keeping things interesting for visitors.
The Siddorns have farmed at Meadow Bank, in the village of Broxton for 102 years, so you could say they’ve had a long time to get things sorted. But the reality is that the 80ha (200-acre) farm has changed vastly over the past few years, with the milking herd giving way to continental beef and those in turn replaced by 65 Traditional Hereford sucklers and their offspring.
Male progeny are slaughtered locally, hung for 28 days and sold from a small farm shop at the side of the A41. The farm also fattens 5000 bacon pigs a year for M&S.
But it’s when you start to walk around the farm that you see that the energetic and professional approach to beef and pigs applies equally strongly to the farm’s wildlife and environment. Every acre of land is under some form of stewardship plan and the field margins are bursting with wildlife. “I think that some farmers used to think I was a bit of a nutcase,” he says. “I’ve had my fair share of criticism. But in recent years other farmers have started coming to me for advice. We’re definitely going in the right direction”
Some 200 tree sparrow boxes (and another 2000 blue-tit boxes made on the farm by visiting schoolchildren and taken home) adorn trees around the farm and lapwings, grey partridge and skylarks can be found nesting in the same field. Keith is not shy of technology, either – three of the owl boxes are fitted with tiny cameras that send out live images of their occupants.
Some 4ha (10acres) a year around the farm is planted to birdseed mix, with one area also allowed to flood in winter to encourage birdlife. Keith has been gratified by the increase in bird numbers in recent years.
He doesn’t just keep this bounty of wildlife to himself. Some 2500 visitors come to the farm each year, with a converted hayloft serving as a spacious educational centre.
And the eight miles of permissive footpaths across the farm (not to mention his links with wildlife organisations) suggest that this is certainly not a farmer who feels threatened by the notion of public access to the countryside.
How did he score on input use? The 1200-place piggery was designed and built to use less than 50p of electricity a day. The bill for the whole farm is less than £1000/year. It’s the same in the farmhouse: “We don’t have central heating, just a log burner and plenty of jumpers,” he says.
The same is true of water use. Meadow Bank uses just £1000 of water a year thanks to a 1m gallon reservoir that takes water from shed roofs for washing and a private well for cattle drinking water. Mains water is used very sparingly.
Fertiliser and pesticide use is limited, too. With pig slurry plentiful, no artificial fertiliser is used and crop protection products are limited to one fungicide and one herbicide on the spring barley.
Truly, this farm is not just profitable but integrated into the local community and gentle on the environment.