Home Farm, on the outskirts of Retford, is a beautiful 350-acre family run farm, renowned for breeding top quality Limousin cattle for showing, breeding and the beef market. It has been home to Matthew’s family for over 70 years, who not only pride themselves in rearing their animals to the very highest welfare standards, but provide an incredibly happy place for their animals to live in as natural an environment as possible, and are now also turning their efforts to improving the natural eco-system on their land.
It’s a winning formula, with the family having built up a reputation for providing superb quality meat, whilst ticking a host of welfare boxes that have even seen vegan and vegetarian customer become loyal fans, purchasing meat for other family members - a nod to the evident happiness and care the animals experience on the farm.
There are also quite a few colourful rosettes dotting around - it would seem that Home Farm are not just experts in bringing juicy, delicious meat cuts to the table, but in showing their breeds at year round events. Something the Limousins enjoy as much as their owners! These are proud beasts, with beautiful facial features, and a supreme stance - curiously combined with a surprising docility from the bulls - that makes them a crowd pleaser, or an award winner in this case.
Pigs are also calling the farm home, with Paula particularly proud of the breeding programme they have in place with their Gloucestershire Old Spots, Duroc Cross Saddleback and Large Black sows, and a Duroc boar. The result is the coverage of fat and taste you would expect from the traditional breeds whilst the Duroc adds an unusual level of marbling to the meat. Again, this has proven an award-winning formula with the animal’s welfare at the forefront. The pigs roam freely in the woodland areas, spending their days rooting and wallowing, and doing exactly as a pig should do.
When we visited there were several litters of piglets - the latest only two days’ old - the little ones running happily around their woodland safehold - and it was clear that their mums were more than comfortable for the family, and even for us to get up close. Another testament to the happiness and security the animals feel in their surroundings.
Add into the equation a mixed flock of around 50 hens and ducks, and the recent addition of four re-homed turkeys who now are happily making friends in the roost, Robin the pony, and a few dogs, and you have a full menagerie who all seem to co-exist in this charming sanctuary within the farm’s beautiful grounds.
When they are not rearing animals and running the farm like clockwork (alongside Matthew’s parents), which is quite a tractor-load of work for the four of them plus just one helper all year-round, they are juggling parenthood to their two children Evie and George, and often up at night with calves or sows in labour, or on duty in the maternity halls. There was a gorgeous three-day old calf cheekily sticking his tongue out at us when we arrived who had been keeping them busy.
You would be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed with the workload and seemingly insufficient hours in the day. In fact it’s time that they both cite as the biggest challenge they face. That and money of course. Every plan, or idea, or improvement need funding, and man power.
In the midst of running the farm, Paula and Matthew can also be found in their 5* kitchen busy preparing their supreme home made pork and beef products ready for their customers and/or to take to local farm markets. It is clearly a passion and there is great deal of love put into making their products carefully by hand. They have also now initiated supply of their free range chicken, with a waiting list that is going to see us waiting for…well… quite a while!
“Our customers know and trust us and our meets. How the animals are looked after, what they have been fed, and the quality and incredible taste of the meat. As soon as we announced the chicken we were inundated with orders, which is a testament to our other meat supply and proved track record in meeting high standards”, explains Paula.
“I think what differentiates us also is that we aim to keep our animals for as long as possible before they go to meat and give them the best possible life. By doing this it undoubtedly reflects in the tenderness and taste of the meat, unlike in mass produced markets where the animal is unhappy, pumped with chemicals, and slaughtered very young.“
We tried the pork pie and were really taken aback with the taste. Something that has not gone amiss in the award stakes, with Home Farm Produce taking home a Great Taste Award for their streaky bacon in 2020 and a Silver in the British Pie Awards for their steak and onion pie.
“We’re proud of our meats”, smiles Paula “It’s an incredible feeling to know that you have reared your own animals, have provided food for your family, and have the assurance that the animals have had the best life. We can survive perfectly well on the meats and poultry/eggs we have here on the farm, and only have to source organic vegetables and fish to complement."
As if the couple were not juggling enough they are now driving forward their plans to move the farm into a new era of regenerative practice from the more traditional methods that have generationally prevailed. It’s a vision they both share and are passionate about. For whilst their animals are outdoor reared in as natural and organic process and environment as possible they are keen to bring a new lease of life into the farm and support the eco-system.
It’s a move that follows an increasing interest in natural farming practice coming from both small hobbyists and larger industrial scale farmers and gardeners, with an appeal that is as broad as organic farming. At first glance you would say its initial appeal is for clean and safe food, but look closer and it certainly goes a lot further than that. Regenerative farming will enhance and protect the environment from degradation, whereas unfortunately more traditional practice is a major culprit. You could say that this new regenerative or ‘conservation’ farming offers a holistic contact of food, health and environment that has both universal appeal across all segments of society.
“A healthy soil function will deliver essential carbon and ecosystem services” explains Paula. “I’m hugely passionate about implementing herbal leys for our cattle as these help with diversification of plant life, capture carbon, and improve the soil structure. It also offers an enriched diet for the cattle.”
A herbal ley is a complex seed mixture of grasses, legumes and herbs, which bring a range of benefits to forage, livestock health and soil fertility. Herbal leys can often include a mixture of up to 17 species, depending on the aims of the ley, location and soil type. Paula and Matthew are implementing a mixture of chicory, kale, vetch and stubble turnips, amongst others.
“I guess you could say we are very unconventional in our approach, and follow very natural principles” Paula smiles. “ We are defying the traditional know-how and following our hearts with this. We want to ensure that we are protecting the soil through the addition of vital minerals from these plants, and our cattle who will benefit from weight gain and milk production, and ultimately in enriching life at every stage in the eco-system.”
There are still many hoops to jump in the farming community and there are those who are firmly set on the traditional practices that have often gone hand in glove with deep-rooted farming generations. But the need for change and indeed the appetite for conservational efforts is a driving force for farmers who want to bring a new injection of eco-conscious practice to the fold. By introducing herbal ley there is also no need for bought-in concentrates or artificial nitrogen, so there is a financial benefit also to add into the mix.
“More and more people are looking at doing farming differently. The government have introduced several environmental initiatives for farmers, which are rolling out in four years, so we will be looking at meeting this criteria. Now is the time for farms to appraise their land and practise.”
As Paula and Matthew look forward to bringing their eco-driven vision alive Home Farm Produce and Home Farm are going from strength to strength in welfare, breeding, showmanship, meat supply and supreme produce, and it is quite simply a wonderful place to call home.
To find out more on the animals, welfare and produce please visit: www.homefarmproduce.co.uk
Meat and other home made items are available to order online or by telephone only.