Mount Pleasant is one of the few dairy farms remaining in this area of North Worcestershire, and the only one which is regularly available for school visits. Each visit is tailored to complement a schools’ ongoing topic work in relevant areas of the National Curriculum and can cover all aspects of a working farm. As the principle teacher and Centre Manager Nina Hatch is responsible for arranging and structuring the educational perspective of the farm.
The tenant farmers Peter & Emma Charles work and live here with their three young daughters, Georgina, Lucy and Megan. They operate the dairy farm as a typical modern, commercial unit with approximately 210 cows in their herd. They own all the cattle and machinery and pay rent to the Bournville Village Trust (BVT) for the land and buildings. The farm thus provides the family’s income and is independent from the school farm trust which now has charitable status. The dairy cows and the family moved here from Chapmans Hill Farm, Romsley in February 2007 with their original 70 cows. They also rent land at the nearby Money Lane Farm where there used to also be a classroom facility for younger children. The Charles family still rent land and farm buildings at Chapmans Hill where they can graze and house heifers (young cows) who do not need milking. Money Lane Farm site is now used for arable crops. In 2017 – 18 wheat and oats will be planted there. In September 2017 owing to the restructuring of the neighbouring BVT farm they have rented additional grazing and arable land. This will provide more grass for the cows to eat, but also the opportunity to grow more arable crops. In Autumn 2017 Peter plans to plant barley in some of these fields.
Pigs, sheep, chickens are kept to complete a child’s insight into how food production, farming, the countryside and nature are mutually sustainable.
Farm Size approximately 540 acres (218 hectares)
Peter & Emma get a single fixed sum from DEFRA (Department for Food and Rural Affairs) to help with the costs of running the farm.Changes to the system of allocating agricultural payments in England in 2005 meant that this amount is based on the number of hectares of farmland that they rent, regardless of what is kept or grown.
The couple entered into the Entry Level Environmental Stewardship Scheme which commits them to managing the fields with wildlife, water quality and biodiversity in mind.This qualifies for additional finance and as a compulsory requirement, all the environmental features (including large trees) are marked onto a map supplied by DEFRA.
Soil and Environmental Issues
Most of the farm’s soil on the Mount Pleasant site is very heavy clay marl, known as the poorest quality soil for farming in Worcestershire. It easily becomes waterlogged in wet weather and is only suitable for growing grass. This type of land needs constant enrichment from organic matter (the cow muck) and other fertilisers to balance the nitrogen levels and grow good quality grass for the cows to eat. However some of the recently rented land is of better quality and is suitable for ploughing and sowing arable crops.
An adult cow produces about 50 litres of nitrate rich slurry waste every day and in the winter months this is concentrated in the farmyard where it has to be scraped out twice a day. A new slurry lagoon has been dug to hold the waste and is connected to a slurry separator. Liquids are pumped out to the fields through a series of pipes which are regularly operated by specialist contractors.
The heavy clay has one advantage – no liner was needed for this huge storage area. Great care has to be taken, as when slurry is increased with rainwater the disposal of large quantities of nitrate rich waste can cause problems .The level of nitrates absorbed into drinking water is an environmental issue and DEFRA sets rigorous standards so that concentrations in drinking water do not exceed the EC limit of 50mg per litre of water. A bore hole has been sunk to supply drinking water for the cows and to clean the parlour. Each cow needs to drink sixty litres of metered water per day and now the farm now has its own regular, cheap and reliable supply of water.
Liquid waste from the farmhouse and school classroom toilets drop by gravity into a filtering system of two reed beds. The filtered clean water then drips down into the adjacent stream where the Trustees have obtained a discharge licence from the Environment Agency.
The reed bed sewage system and other sustainable building features are outlined on a separate information sheet.
The Fields and Food for the Animals
The fields around the farm provide food for the cattle. Triticale wheat is grown in some fields at Chapmans Hill and Money Lane Farms and the whole plant, from seeds to stalks are chopped up at harvest time. You may see straw in large round or cuboid shaped bales stacked around the yard that will be used for bedding. The additional rented land now provides the opportunity to grow a wider range of arable crops (oats and barley) for feed and bedding. Wheat and barley straw are also bought direct from another farmer’s harvest as bedding for the cattle and pigs. This year’s crops were harvested in August & September.
In autumn and winter, all the dairy cattle are kept indoors in the farmyard. All their food needs either to be grown here through the spring or summer, or bought in. The majority of their diet is silage (pickled summer grass), which is cut and covered in black plastic sheeting in large silage clamps across the road from the main farm buildings. In 2017 4 cuts of silage were taken from the fields. The silage is mixed in the ‘Silo King’ mixer wagon and delivered to each section of cattle with brewer’s grains (barley left over from beer making),left over bread, chopped wheat and maize to provide a good source of fibre as well as with some extra minerals.
Some grass is left to grow for longer and then cut and left out to dry in the sun as hay for the calves and sheep to eat. This was the traditional way of feeding grass to animals in the winter. Nowadays we have various alternatives. Different mixtures of supplementary cow cake (concentrated food made from cereals, molasses, vegetables & minerals) are fed to the cattle at various ages.
Any male calves born here are reared for meat (beef) and are usually sold on to other local farmers. Their feed has a high protein content, while dairy calves have a very different composition of cake in addition to the essential milk (either from the parlour or as reconstituted milk powder) until they are weaned at nine to ten weeks.