Lesley Zwart, Youngstock Manager, Eastbrook Farm
"Organically we strive to have animals that are naturally healthy, but they can of course still get sick. The better we know an animal the sooner we will pick up if they are not fit."
Lesley Zwart is Youngstock Manager at Eastbrook Farm in Bishopstone, near Swindon. Eastbrook is the home of the Helen Browning organic brand of bacon, sausages and hot dogs available in Ocado, Sainsbury’s and Budgens: www.helenbrowningsorganic.co.uk
Can you give a short history of how you got to where you are now, including why and when you 'went organic'?
After working for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines in an administrative job in Holland for about 15 years, I became aware I wanted to become a farmer, a feeling from within. Tried it out on a dairy farm during a holiday in the early nineties, and really enjoyed it. Soon after I took the plunge and quit my job to return to the farm and worked there for a couple of months, learning lots about dairy.
In the following couple of years I worked on a variety of farms in Holland, Australia and Denmark. And to learn as much as possible in a short time I enlisted on a year’s course in The Netherlands – it was an organic farming course, I’d never heard of organic….
It turned out organic was exactly my way of farming and after finishing the course I went back to Australia, this time to officially farm organically. When it was time to return – and with half of my roots in England – I tried to find something here and was able to get a couple of weeks of work experience at Eastbrook Farm in Bishopstone. It was a wonderful time and I kept going back for several weeks during summer. In the meantime I’d started to study Natural Remedies for Animals and after qualifying started to work at Eastbrook Farm full time. That was in 2006.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
As it happens we are just reorganizing so I haven’t really got a typical day at the moment, but until recently a day would have been made up of checking all the youngstock on farm in their various fields, with the youngest getting a mixture of grains and cake. We have Friesian heifers which will become our dairy cows; black and white male calves which either go as veal at around eight months or stay on for beef; and beef calves, they are Aberdeen Angus, Simmenthal or Belgian Blue crosses.
In summer there are jobs such as moving cattle to fresh grazing, weighing youngstock to keep an eye on their growth and fencing fields. The calfhouse, a purpose-built shed where we raise our calves during winter, gets mucked out and then pressure washed in preparation for the next calving season which will start in September.
Administration is also a large part of my job. We make use of Interherd and I am responsible for entering all information for both the dairy and youngstock, just under 500 animals. I’m rather a workaholic so fill most of days with the job and enjoy staying at home the rest of the time, going for walks with Barry my dog (who is on farm with me all day too which is wonderful), doing a bit of gardening, bit of computing and eating raw stuff as I don’t cook for myself.
Who are your customers and where are they?
My main customers are the youngstock. It is my job to look after them and I take that very seriously. We humans decide everything for them, when and what they can eat, where they live, when they have a calf and by which sire, when they need vaccinations, and for the beef when they die. It is most important that we enable them to have a life with as high a welfare standard as possible and give them the chance to follow their natural behaviour and instincts as much as possible too.
This is where the organic principles and Soil Association are so important, they mean a minimum level will be met by all organic farmers, and not just in dairy, beef and pig farming but right across the board. Organically we strive to have animals that are naturally healthy, but they can of course still get sick. The better we know an animal the sooner we will pick up if they are not fit. Depending on the symptoms I will treat them with homoeopathic remedies as much as possible. Also I make use of my Connection Sensor, which is like a cross between a divining rod and a pendulum, which helps to make contact with the animal and its energy fields and can help in finding out what is wrong.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
An important lesson life has taught me is that things do not happen without reason, it may not be apparent straight away what the reason is, but when one door closes, another one opens; it is part of how we grow and develop and it really helps me to stay grounded. I think you make your own choices all the time and therefore need to take responsibility for your own life, and I try to live in such a way that I don’t need to say: I should have done this or that, or I wish I had done so and so. I also believe that physical symptoms are a result of our energy being out of balance, our body is showing us something has to change.
What do you love most about what you do?
Working with animals is wonderful, if you get it right you get so much back! For example while bedding in the calfhouse one of the cows put her head on my shoulder; or moving cattle from one field to another just by calling them over; or calves coming over for a scratch; or getting in calf heifers to walk through a footbath just by asking them to, no shouting no pressure. These are precious moments for me, times when I’m very proud of “my girls and boys”.
What is your favourite meal?
My favourite meal has to be Chinese-all-you-can-eat-buffet, unfortunately it is not organic. I have always loved the flavours and textures of Chinese food and being a farm worker have quite a big appetite so to be able to go and load up my plate a couple of times with my favourite things is just heaven. I can’t bear wasting food and I can assure you that it all gets eaten !
What would be your 'Desert Island' luxury?
I have never wanted my own farm, it was enough for me to work with the animals on someone else’s place, and on all farms I’ve worked I’ve always been able to bond with all the animals – from calves to ostriches – as if they were my own, even if I was only working there for a short time.
At Eastbrook Farm it has been no different and on top of that it is special to work for Helen Browning. Her views and amazing knowledge are always inspirational and motivational. She is such a great champion for the organic cause and I am pleased she is willing and able to use those skills on national level. And I am not just saying that because she is my boss, believe me, I’m not that kind of person. I truly hope it gives her as much satisfaction as working on her farm gives me.