New organic demonstration farm seeks to produce food from the forest

04 November 2010

Organic Centre Wales recently held the first open day at a new demonstration farm which it manages as part of the Farming Connect Organic Development Programme. 

Peter Bottoms bought the 250ha Esgair Forest near Machynlleth in 2007 and entered it into organic conversion in 2008. It is managed for an annual timber crop of over 1,500 tonnes and is the first organic forest in the UK. The timber is processed in the new sawmill for sale into the local construction and timber framing market.

While it is first and foremost a forestry business, Peter’s unique approach means that he sees more than wood and trees. He is particularly interested in using the forest in different ways to generate income while trees mature. He is considering woodland pigs and forest gardening, but his initial focus is on table birds.

As descendents of jungle fowl, poultry are right at home in the forest, and range widely among the trees. Peter is establishing a small flock of 20 Sasso birds. They arrived on 7 October at the age of 4 weeks, and will be reared for a further 8 weeks or so, housed in an arc built on site from waste timber.

The birds are fed predominantly on purchased pellets, but a key aim of this system is to maximise the amount of feed the birds pick up from the range. Peter has sown strips of a cover crop containing a mixture of seed bearing plants like quinoa, chicory, kale and millet, and insect attracting plants such as birdsfoot trefoil, borage, phacelia and red clover. Similar crops have been established at the Welsh Poultry Centre.
“Between the two sites, we hope to demonstrate the significant contribution these crops and the range more generally can make to the bird’s diet, thus reducing reliance on bought in feed,” explains Tony Little, who helps to manage the demonstration farm network for Organic Centre Wales. Once the birds have been killed and processed, Organic Centre Wales will organise a second open day in early January to look at how the new enterprise performed, and of course, a taste test!

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