When much of the country had still to hear about organic farming, Will Best, of Manor Farm at Godmanstone in Dorset was carefully practicing it and was so far ahead of most others that for 10 years he had the only organic dairy herd in the county.
The farm has been in the Best family since 1934 and Will took over the running of it from his father immediately after leaving university. He began building up his dairy herd in 1970, eventually deciding that around 80 cows was the ideal size for the 250 acres of the original farm plus the 100 acres of adjoining land that are rented.
He and his wife began questioning the use of chemicals on the land around 1975 and began their move to full Soil Association organic certification in 1983, with Waitrose the first customer for the organic milk they produced.
Right from the start he adopted a ‘healthy eating for cows as well as people’ philosophy, so began growing all of their organic fodder, which includes, chicory, kale and salad burnett as well as the grass which is enriched with alfalfa. Supplementing this he buys in seaweed meal and beans, as a dietary supplement.
He says: “We are fortunate to have nice chalky, free-draining soil and have carefully bred a herd of Ayrshire/Swedish Red and Friesian cross cows, which are hardy and have good feet. This means that they can forage outside almost all year round, which we think leads to a healthier lifestyle, which they prefer.”
Rich in wildlife, with traditional hedging, woodland and a river running through it, Manor Farm is today a textbook example of an ideal organic farm. It uses homeopathic remedies whenever the cattle need attention because of illness and is also home to a small herd of sheep, which are used to close-graze the grass, which produces better feeding for the cattle.
“Becoming organic wasn’t easy 30 years ago. The trend was towards intensive agriculture, and there were very few sources of knowledge and information to turn to for advice,” comments Will, “but it was a journey we are glad we embarked on. “The result today is a contented, healthy, dairy herd, producing delicious rich milk that we have always been proud to put our name to.”