Poultry (indoor/enriched colony)
HORTICULTURE & POULTRY, HEREFORDSHIRE: Throne Farm has been growing apples since the early 1600s when one of Stephen’s ancestors introduced bittersweet apples to Herefordshire from France. The farm got its name after King Charles hid here and sampled its cider while on the run in 1645.
Although Stephen has now diversified his 320 acre (129 hectare) farm, fruit-growing still lies at its core. From the late 1990s until the early 2020s the farm devoted its energies to intensively growing bush orchards producing cider apples, but when the demand for the apples collapsed, Stephen realised a new approach was needed.
He decided to grow not just apples, but a wide range of fruits, and to grow them in a regenerative way, so that soils were nourished and fewer chemical fertilisers were needed. The trees now include red flesh apples, pears, sour cherries, quinces, and Perry pears. They’re grown on an agroforestry system whereby trees are interplanted with arable feed crops. This allows the trees plenty of air and light, and provides a rich ecosystem in which a diversity of wildlife can thrive.
“Growing fruit trees this way is already paying dividends,” says Stephen. “We now have plenty of beneficial insects, which feed on the harmful pests. For instance, we have spiders and beetles that eat the eggs of slugs, which used to be a major problem. Nature is helping us, so we don’t need to use as many pesticides as before.”
Stephen has managed to make his fruit business more profitable by using a shake-and-catch harvester that’s perfectly suited to top-fruit orchards like Throne Farm’s where there is plenty of space between rows of trees. The system consists of wide plastic mats that catch the fruits from the trees as they fall, and its benefits are many: it reduces the risk of rotten or bruised fruit, requires less labour, ensures that fruit is collected at optimum ripeness and means that soil borne diseases (contracted by fruit lying on the ground) are avoided. Most of the farm’s fruit is sold for juicing or cider making.
The other main strand of Stephen’s business is breeding pullets (laying hens for commercial egg farms). Chicks are bought in at a day old, then reared until they are 16 weeks, when they are sold on. Until recently their manure, although rich in nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, could not be used on the farm because of the danger of run-off into local rivers (a major problem, particularly on the Wye). However, Stephen has now invested in a compactor baler that will bale poultry manure in a way that does not give off ammonia and carbon dioxide. The easy-to-transport bales are then fermented. Some of the manure is used on the farm, but most is sold to farmers or gardeners as soil improver.
Member of the NFU
National and local newspapers, radio and television. BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards finalist: Throne Farm, September 2021.
Farmerama podcast on agro-forestry.