Our meat and the environment

20180918_214449-1.jpgThere is a lot of discussion at the moment on the environmental impact of meat production.  While intensively reared meat is clearly a concern it’s worth sharing a few facts about our own production at Flexigraze.  Here is not the place for a huge discussion of meat eating versus vegetarianism or veganism and the carbon impacts of different systems in general but we believe Flexigraze meat to be at the more sustainable and environmentally friendly end of a very complex spectrum.

All our lambs are sourced in the north east or very close by and then they are reared in this region thereafter.  They are all killed at an abattoir in the north-east and then butchered locally too.  While we do have to transport them locally from site to site their ‘food miles’ are still relatively low.  All our animals are grass fed year round with numbers grazing sites balanced with the food available.  It is an extremely low intensity system.

The areas we graze are generally of high conservation value and we are grazing them to help protect floral diversity or wet grassland habitat for breeding and wintering birds.  These are areas that need to be managed in some way and grazing is often the best way to achieve the results that are required.  Thus all our grazed land is good for invertebrates either as pollinators in a sward of wild flowers or soil and dung invertebrates that in turn feed the birds on the land.

The areas of good conservation land we graze are not suitable for other food production in terms of arable crops.  In some cases the land could be, with ‘improvement’, suitable but this would be detrimental to the conservation reasons for management: pollinators and other wildlife.

Of course it’s perfectly reasonable to have ethical concerns about meat consumption but we are proud of our high welfare, low intensity grazing system that is also good for wildlife.  The meat that we produce is a product of this system as is the wool.

Quick check at Prestwick

It was a wet evening with enough time for a quick check on the ponies at Prestwick Carr, depending on where they were and how visible they were. A quick check from the gate revealed the full complinent nearby and apparently content if a little damp.

It’s often tempting to leave it at that, particularly in rain but wit half an hour to kill a wander over seemed like a worthy thing to do. The walk was rewarded with some of the local wildlife. Two wheatears flew low over the field alighting on molehills, their white rump distinguishing them in the dull light. They will be heading into the hills this was just a call on the way. A skylark overhead provided accompaniment, first one then a second joining in.

And the ponies were all fine too.

Challenging weather and more

Highland cattle enjoying extra food

The last few days have been tricky. The weather has made travelling around awkward and the snow has made it a bit more difficult for the livestock. We planned ahead and had supplementary feed available and distributed to local volunteers. In general our rare breeds and hill breeds are perfectly capable of dealing with this weather, certainly for a few days, but they do enjoy an easy feed when the opportunity arises.

Exmoor ponies with additional winter food

If it had just been the weather it would have been challenging enough but on top of it someone decided to cut the fence at Linton Lane enabling our Soay sheep to escape. This is difficult to deal with at the best of times but really unhelpful when other matters are taking up our time. The sheep are all back where they should be now. We just have to hope that the fence remains intact now.  These little Soays are probably the hardiest of our sheep originating as a breed from the St Kilda group of islands and putting up with whatever the weather throws at them.

Chevington Sheep

We have quite a few sheep on the fields around East Chevington nature reserve at the moment. These fine horned Soays are in with a few Swaledales in the field near the turning circle. In one of the small fields between the Cycle track and the northern lake is a mix of colours of Shetland sheep.

The weather may be a bit mixed at the moment but these hardy animals are unperturbed by such things. The ponies with the Shetlands are equally capable of dealing with weather conditions without additional food.

Identifying our animals

Ponies and their new sign at East Chevington
Hebrideans at Hauxley

We are in the middle of a small project to install small signs on sites that we graze to help visitors identify the grazing animals.  The project was funded by the Postcode Local Fund of the People’s Postcode Lottery and involves simple and discrete signage to be put up and changed as necessary.  We have breed notices for many of the animals we graze and we can put these in the frame as they are moved around.  We also have general information posters for when the field is ungrazed or where none of our posters are applicable.

In the last few days signs have gone up at Hauxley, where we have Hebridean Sheep grazing, and also up on some of the fields at East Chevington.  In one of these it was a choice of posters as there are Shetland sheep, an Exmoor pony and two Highland ponies.  The Exmoor poster seemed a little confusing with the mix of ponies so the Shetland sheep poster was the one that was eventually installed.

Swaledales at Hauxley

Swaledale sheep at hauxley
Swaledale sheep at Hauxley

Our sheep flock is a relatively diverse mix of breeds.  We have some rare breeds doing our grazing for us including Hebridean and Shetland.  However we also use some more run-of-the-mill varieties such as Swaledale.  These hill sheep are hardy if a little less specialised than some of the rarer types.  We tend to purchase the smaller and less valuable whether (castrated males) from some of our local hill farms and then utilise these on our grazing schemes and, ultimately, in our box sales of shearling mutton.

Some of our Swaledale flock can currently be seen grazing at Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Hauxley Nature Reserve.


New Wool

manx loughtan woolOur latest batch of wool has just arrived and we will be getting it ready for sale soon.  This year we have skeins of brown Manx loaghtan and a flecked grey which is the result of mixing white Shetland and black Hebridean.  We also have carded wool from all three for use in felting or hand spinning.  There’s a little bit of work to get it ready for sale but hopefully it will be available very soon.


Some of the cattle are now happily grazing away at a new overwintering wader site near Cambois. They will soon be joined by a few more to get the grassland in good condition for the returning birds next autumn.