Wilder Beef in Cornwall
We are working with some of the farmers whose cattle graze our nature reserves to ensure that they receive a good, fair price for the beef they produce from cattle which provide such an essential role in nature conservation.
We are working with them to encourage a 100% pasture-fed approach with the ultimate goal of improving habitats for wildlife in the wider countryside within, and beyond our nature reserve boundaries.
A successful trial
In 2019 we trialled a Wilder Beef box scheme which proved popular and resulted in the farmer receiving a higher-than-market price for the cattle and enabled us to support a more environmentally and wildlife friendly way of farming. Feedback from our customers on Wilder Beef was very positive, in terms of its quality and ethics. In the longer term we hope to develop relationships with more of our farming partners and consumers.
- We would like to incentivise farmers to take more action for wildlife on their farms by paying them a good price for their cattle which provide such a valuable role for wildlife.
- We would also like to encourage consumers to develop a deeper relationship with their food, in this case beef, leading them to make more environmentally and wildlife friendly choices about what ends up on their plates.
In November 2020 we ran a second, larger trial with great success. Sign up to our email newsletter for announcements of any future Wilder Beef opportunities.
Fantastic, we were so pleased to be able to purchase local sustainably reared beef, at good value too.
Why Wilder Beef?
Wilder Beef cattle are pasture fed for their whole lives. This is an important distinction for the environment, for the cattle, for the consumer and for wildlife. It means that the cattle have grown eating the plants and grasses they have found in our nature reserves and surrounding pastures. There is no GM soya (often imported from South America), or chemical grown barley (the likes of which come from East Anglia) in their diet. They eat just the diverse plants that their sustainably managed grazing land is capable of producing, providing a wide range of nutrients for the cattle which pass on to the consumer through their meat. This is what is meant by pasture fed* – their diet is so much more than just grass.
* The farmer, Christine, feeds the cattle a very small quantity of compressed grass and sugar beet nuts. This is so that she has something she can shake in a bag to bring them in to check their welfare, otherwise finding them on our nature reserves can be difficult. There is no grain or soya in their diet.
The Wilder Beef cattle used in this beef box are bred, born and reared on the fields and moors surrounding our Helman Tor Nature Reserve. They eat what they find growing on the land until they are fully grown, and when it’s time for them to be slaughtered this is done humanely at a small abattoir in Cornwall. They are butchered by a family business just down the road from Helman Tor, and then sold mostly to Cornish residents – never leaving the County. This is high quality, locally produced food with low food miles.
Wilder Beef cattle are wildlife habitat engineers – the impact they have with their hooves, mouths, bodies and dung provides a dynamic environment where plants, insects, birds and bats can find their homes. On our nature reserves they provide an essential role in maintaining habitats for some of our most cherished wildlife. The meat in the Wilder Beef scheme comes from cattle which have lived a free roaming life, eating forage which is grown without the use of wildlife-harming chemicals.
The Food Debate
Our food and where it comes from is the subject of increasing discussion and debate. As a Wildlife Trust, we have been taking a keen interest in how food can be produced to make a healthier, wildlife friendlier future for us all. With the Agriculture and Environment Bills of 2018, important policies for wildlife have been up for scrutiny. Also, consumers are increasingly questioning how our food has been produced, and veganism is becoming popular. For those who eat meat, some choices are better than others, and nowhere is this more evident than in the beef and dairy industries.
It all depends what cattle are fed. Beef and dairy cattle can be divided into animals which have been fed entirely on grass (including silage and hay), and those which have been fed wholly or partly on grain. Grain typically means concentrated cereals, along with products from crops such as soya and palm oil, in the form of ‘nuts’ – compressed, processed feeds, which make cattle grow faster and produce more milk. Grain production requires a large area of land, sometimes in far-flung countries where it results in clearance of precious native habitats such as rainforests.
The case for 100% grass fed
The term grass fed can be misleading – especially when talking about cattle involved in our Wilder Beef scheme. In fact the cattle will be reared on whatever plants they can forage whilst out in the fields and nature reserves – so in fact a wide variety of plants and shrubs are eaten with medicinal and nutritional benefits for the cattle, and for consumers. 100% Pasture Fed is a more accurate description. Farmers rearing livestock on 100% pasture often take a longer term, more sustainable approach to pasture management, incorporating a wider range of plants into the mix, including deeper rooting, drought-resistant grasses and flowering plants such as legumes which release nutrients: more flowers, more nectar, more wildlife. Cornwall has plenty of grass, with a long growing season in our mild climate. Livestock efficiently convert grass and other plants into protein which humans can eat, and we need the livestock to maintain our grasslands for a wide range of wildlife. Arable (crop) farming, like cattle farming, can be an intensive, industrialised business, requiring high inputs of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, leaving soils exposed to erosion and degradation. Using arable land to grow crops to feed cattle, when they could be fed grass, seems inefficient when that valuable land could be used to grow food for direct human consumption. If we reduce the amount of meat we eat but choose to buy meat or dairy products reared entirely on pasture grown plants, this is surely better for humans, farm animals and wildlife.
Beef cattle have long provided an essential service in maintaining our nature reserves for our cherished wildlife. They eat grasses and shrubs which if left untouched would smother some of the more delicate, rarer plants which in turn provide a habitat for many pollinators and other wildlife. Their dung is a rich invertebrate factory, producing an abundance of dung beetles and larva which in turn feed a wide variety of birds and bats. The diet of shrubs, grass and herbs eaten while they are on the reserves results in healthier cattle, and healthier, tastier meat for people too. Numerous beef farmers and some dairy farmers in Cornwall produce a 100% pasture-fed product, but you need to know your producer – through farmers' markets, direct via farm shops or food boxes, or through a local butcher. Ask if the product is 100% grass fed as, legally, beef can be labelled as grass fed if this only means 51% grass!
Pasture for Life
The best way of ensuring that your meat and dairy is 100% grass fed is to look for the Pasture for Life (PFL) certification mark, guaranteeing that the animals have been fed grass for the whole of their lives.
Get in touch
We are planning to explore more ways of connecting wildlife friendly cattle farmers with conscientious consumers in the future. Wilder Beef is a premium product which is not always available. If you’d like to be added to our Wilder Beef mailing list so that we can let you know when Wilder Beef is available please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you’re a farmer following the 100% pasture fed approach in Cornwall email us at email@example.com – we’d love to hear from you.