The Cholderton Estate gained full
organic status in February 2003.
has always been managed in an environmentally friendly way, so
going organic was not a difficult decision; in fact the organic
option was first considered as much as 12 years ago. But it was
pragmatic considerations that made the Estate’s owners take
the leap into full organic production. They found that although
their animals benefited from the highest welfare conditions and
were among the finest livestock available, there was no premium
in ‘conventional’ markets for this excellence. What
finally tipped the scales was the fact that organic milk got a
was already well on track for going organic; crucially, it is
a mixed farm, with both animals and crops – essential when
manure is going to replace chemicals as fertiliser. The Estate
had also been practising a fully monitored and recorded rotation
scheme since its foundation in the 19th century, and the land
was already properly fenced, as prescribed by organic regulations.
been instant changes as a result of going organic. Use of artificial
fertilisers stopped at once (with a resultant immediate beneficial
impact on the accounts), which meant stepping up such things as
clover-rich leys to provide natural nutriments. The yields from
these leys have out performed all expectations. All of the grain
grown has to wait until its fourth year of conversion before it
can be certified as fully organic, but this grain (rolled and
milled on the Estate) can be fed to the Estate’s animals.
now has its own stack of manure, which is applied once a year.
The barns from which this is obtained are cleaned out mechanically,
with the manure hauled out ready for stacking. The actual spreading
is done with efficient machines purchased in Europe, and 30 or
40 acres (12–16ha) can be treated per day. This process
is not especially labour intensive; more time is spent on muck
spreading, but no time is now spent on spraying or fertilising.
for cereal fields is that the muck is spread on the stubble, then
a seedbed is worked down, but there is no seed dressing. The young
crop – sprung from vigorous modern strains – grows
quickly, ensuring that there is no competition from weeds. All
crop yields have exceeded expectations. A new crop being considered
is organic borage for the pharmaceutical industry.
So far as
the animals are concerned, the gains are also significant. Worm
problems have almost disappeared in both cattle and sheep, the
animals appear much healthier, and their overall welfare is much
better. One of the results of this has been a drop in vet bills.
Meat yields are easily on a par with non-organic, and there are
plans to open a farm shop selling the Estate’s products.
For the Cholderton
Estate, the success of going organic has been far greater than