Skip to content

Meat’s future – a bit of a tricky issue

December 24, 2015

Wassledine Red Poll bull - great tasting and slow grown, grass fed beef from BedfordshireHaving enjoyed a pretty hearty meal of stir fried vegetables and tofu with egg noodles on Tuesday evening, I switched on BBC Radio 4 to provide washing up entertainment and listened to a documentary featuring Henry Dimbleby, called ‘A Meaty Problem’. Worth a listen if you have a moment.

The focus was on the need for us to reduce our meat consumption, for reasons of health and to reduce carbon emissions and water and fossil fuel use. This is definitely something I would support and we try to push the simple idea of eating less meat, but better meat. The programme included some interesting glimpses towards a possible future where meat is engineered from stem cells originally harvested from the parent animal – steer, chicken, whatever. These cells would be grown in a carefully controlled environment and then, and this is the part I struggled to understand, processed into the structure of meat complete with marbling and texture, by a 3-D printer. All very sci-fi. The human population of the world certainly needs access to high quality, affordable protein, and although I was initially very dubious about factory engineered meat, having thought about it for a while, I’m inclined to think, why not?

We are becoming more squeamish about killing furry animals for food, so perhaps eating insects is a better way to reduce the overall cost of our protein. I believe some insects are very much more efficient converters of vegetation than traditional farm mammals. Insects surely would require a great deal of processing before most people in Europe and North America are prepared to eat them and there would be a cost inherent in that.

The part of the show that really made me stop and wonder was mention of the inefficiency of free range farming. The example cited was a chicken producer who compared his housed system with a free range alternative, suggesting that the speed of production he was able to achieve made the other appear inefficient and wasteful of resources. Such an argument was a new one on me, or so I thought. Again, after a while I realised that its logic and truth is a throwback to what must have been revolutionary changes after World War 2, that led to hens being raised in battery houses and pigs in factory systems – both of which have thankfully fallen out of favour to some extent, thanks to long-term campaigning and pressure from a wide range of quarters. I speak as a convert from one philosophy to the other and I found it a little unsettling to hear what I assume would be the same outcome – an increase in factory farming – proposed using subtlety different reasoning.

Our beef production is very small scale and our prices are not low. Customers buy from us for a variety of reasons – local provenance, high welfare standards, low inputs, lack of routine medication, as well as great taste, of course. We don’t claim to be particularly efficient, indeed one particular selling point is our animals’ age at slaughter; just less than thirty months. Which by some standards renders us decidedly inefficient. Because our cattle eat grass in spring and summer and hay, cut from our farm in winter, our inputs, particularly cereal feeds, are very much lower than their efficient equivalent. It takes longer but requires fewer inputs and we think the result is better.

Eat less and better quality meat, eat insects and yes, cultured and printed meat if we must, but surely we can’t allow ourselves to slip back to the dark days of factory reared, poor welfare food in the name of efficiency.



Put the kettle on!

December 4, 2015

A kettle boiling on an open fireOn my own, working in the woods, I’ll have a Thermos of tea with me and drink it through the day, even down to the cool, tarry brew that lurks there around 3.30. If Jane’s with me, we’ll boil the Kelly kettle frequently, there being a slight competition for the duty of firing it up; it’s essential and enjoyable and it gets you away from work a few minutes earlier than would otherwise be the case.

If there’s a larger group than the Kelly kettle can cater for (four or even three if anyone else drinks tea in quantity), the proper kettle is dusted off. It’s an Ebay treasure, an icon of outdoor life and woodland work. It makes a lovely cup of tea, but the additional joy it brings is the need for a fire. It would be crazy to light a fire every time tea is needed, so a fire must be kept burning throughout the day. Marvelous.

Flowers power positive thought

July 5, 2015
Lady's bedstraw amongst the grasses - fragrant and beautiful

Lady’s bedstraw amongst the grasses – fragrant and beautiful

Let’s be positive. Sometimes difficult but I’m happy when I can look at a job that I’m struggling with in 30 degrees during July, and that I had thought I’d sort out in May, in a positive light.
Last December we cleared a very badly silted pond and the result has been excellent so far. To get a machine to the pond a fence had to be removed and of course in winter the fence was redundant, all our animals being safely housed in a barn.
Now, in the first week of July, with high temperatures, little rain and lots of cattle to feed, that field, now full of grass, has become essential.
So I’m racing to get a fence up. Sweating and swearing in the rather un-British heat. I’ve spent a good amount of time being critical of myself for a lack of organisation (reasonable enough really), but my late fencing and lack of cattle in this field has meant that the flowers have bloomed like I’ve never seen them before. A beautiful mix of red clover, selfheal and lady’s bedstraw is particularly eye-catching. The latter’s froth of soft yellow flowers has a subtle sherbetty fragrance and that, I suspect explains its name – a bloom favoured by ladies as a masker of bed chamber nasty niffs.
The power of positive thinking – wish I could pull that off more often.

Freya saves the day

June 22, 2015
tags: ,
Suckling calf - always a welcome sight

Suckling calf – always a welcome sight

We recently had to have a cow put down after she broke a leg; not a great Saturday night that one! The financial loss added to the distress at losing an animal we have come to know well, over the last four years. Of course once the most immediate problem of disposing of her body was sorted out, we had to consider her 10 week old calf. Hardly surprisingly, he was distressed (as were the rest of the herd) and adding to his state would very soon be hunger since he had, until then, only been eating his mum’s milk.

Feeding one calf by hand would be a very time-consuming job but one that we would have to take on to ensure we didn’t lose him too. In these kind of circumstances, one tends to imagine what might appear to be the best outcome. In this case, our thoughts were very much – ‘wouldn’t it be good if another cow allowed him to take some milk from her’. Amazingly, the following morning, perfectly on queue for us to see it happen, our orphaned calf snuck up behind a cow called Freya and took a long drink. We’ll need to keep a careful watch on both, but it looks possible that Freya might just save the day.

Make your own willow basket – Sunday 17 May

May 3, 2015
Enjoy our kind of  stress and learn to make a willow basket with Wassledine

Enjoy our kind of stress and learn to make a willow basket with Wassledine

Imagine a day spent in a peaceful hazel coppice, listening to the songs of melodious warblers flitting frantically amongst the trees; being brought home made cakes and cups of tea and enjoying the company of a small group of like-minded individuals, as you are driven half crazy by the frustration of trying to make a beautiful, even, round basket from just a few bits of willow.

Well it doesn’t have to be frustrating and in fact Ed Burnett, our excellent teacher, will make the process as calming and enjoyable as possible. We throw in a warm welcome,  the beautiful green, leafy surroundings, a kettle boiling over an open fire and of course Jane’s cakes; Ed brings calm and many years of craft experience and teaching.


Ed Burnett, during our last basketmaking course in 2014

Ed Burnett, during our last basketmaking course in 2014

By the end of what will be a fairly intensive day despite the relaxing surroundings, you will depart with a basket you’ve made yourself, that will be perfectly capable of holding some things and moving them around your home or garden.

This course is designed for the complete novice but Ed can be flexible enough to provide some more advanced tuition for anyone who has done a bit of basketmaking before.

For booking information, please visit our web site or if you need more information please don’t hesitate to contact us by phone on 01462 711815 or email

To find out more about our lovely wood, click here

Spring flowers

May 2, 2015

Yes, it’s spring, although for very early May the temperature’s rather low. What a joy to discover some colour. Here three fairly common species that grow in our old meadows in Gravenhurst.

Cuckoo flower, a member of the cabbage family, appears in the damper parts of the meadow, in amongst soft rush. The name is shared with a few others that flower at the same time as cuckoos arrive, although why lady’s smock, an alternative name still used commonly now, I couldn’t say; perhaps the delicate pale mauve of its petals was a common colour for women’s clothes at some point in the past. They wouldn’t cover much of a lady anyway. Cowslips are Primulas, possibly so called because of their preference for fields in which cattle graze. Their seeds have been sown in huge numbers along new road embankments in recent years – perhaps carslips might replace cowslip in the future. In theory, cowslips are known as peggles in Herts and Beds although I’ve only heard this from a genuine local, unprompted, once in the last 30 years of listening for it. I drop it into conversations whenever I can. Lesser celandine is listed as a woodland flower although it seems to grow pretty much anywhere around here. A buttercup which turns out, rather confusingly, to be related to greater celandine by nothing more than colour, was also named pilewort, apparently, and you really wouldn’t want to be rubbing the wrong remedy there. William Wordsworth was so fond of the flower that he wrote three poems about it (3-1 daffodils!).

lesser celandine

lesser celandine



Cuckoo flower or ladies smock

Cuckoo flower or ladies smock

Hurdles for garden design competition

February 28, 2015
one of three hurdles for Shuttleworth College

one of three hurdles for Shuttleworth College

I’ve nearly finished three willow hurdles that will be part of  a garden design competition that a college’s design students are entering. They  were after low impact, local materials, these should fit the bill. I hope they like them – I’m quite pleased!

I think the competition is at Earls Court next month. Would be nice to be part of winning team.

%d bloggers like this: