Horton House Organic Farm is a Crown Tenancy farm situated on the Wiltshire Somerset border in the lush Pewsey Vale and extending to the chalk downlands above the valley. The farm is certified Pasture For Life, providing absolute assurance that animals are 100% pasture fed (pasture: grasses, herbs, legumes and wild flowers) throughout their lives, with no grain, cereals or other manufactured feed permitted. They are also a certified Organic farm
Jonny and Rachael Rider are the third generation of the Rider family to be rotational grazing on these extensive organic pastures, rich with a mix of grass species and herbal leys. The farm has fed no concentrate for 12 years, and the Riders have recently helped developed the Pasture for Life Dairy standards.
The herd of 400 have been milked once a day for almost 20 years and the cows dry off for 3 months a year. No antibiotics have been used for mastitis for 10 years and herd health is exemplary across the board. All their milk is antibiotic free. The diversity of breeds includes Jersey, Montbeliarde, Ayrshire, Red Poll, Fleckvieh and more recently some beef crosses for veal production. Calving is in Spring to coincide with school holidays, as help from the family is essential!
Horton House Farm is one of few dairy farms practising mob grazing. Mob grazing is becoming more popular among savvy beef farmers, but remains extremely rare for dairy farms like Horton House. ‘To produce milk without any grain is a really big thing. Most of the dairy farmers in the country think they’re absolutely mad,’ says Sara at the PFLA. This new regenerative farming movement, led by Pasture For Life, is encouraging farmers to take on and manage livestock in this innovative way because it mimics the synergies found in nature and captures carbon into the soil.
For the last 8 years they have also run an ‘eggmobile’ of traveling chickens that follow behind the cows grazing the new grass shoots, spreading the manure and conditioning the pasture. They also produce the most amazing eggs! They also have a few pedigree Tamworth pigs who are excellent grazers and drink the waste cows milk. If this is not enough the family also have a small flock of Wiltshire Horn sheep that graze extensively on the downland pasture where the lambs remain with their mothers for a year. Alongside the cows they are integral for managing the pasture, encouraging rare species of wildflowers and butterflies by grazing in rotation. The cows tend to pull out the tusky grass which the sheep don’t eat. But the sheep will eat the ragwort that the cows won’t touch (as it’s poisonous to cows). This is a farm where wildlife thrives. Jonny and Rachel work with several conservation charities to help nurture endangered species and restore biodiversity.
When Pasture for Life certification for dairy farmers was launched in January 2018, the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA), working with its group of pilot farmers, established that offspring from pasture-fed dairy cows must be given the chance of life, and where possible, remain on certified farms their entire lives. Horton House are founder members of a new Pasture Fed Livestock Association initiative focused on developing the concept for pasture fed suckled veal from the “cow with calf” system. This unique approach sees that all calves born each year are kept on farm and stay with their mothers to suckle milk naturally while grazing the organic pastures.