John and Lizzie Ridout and their family moved to Cornwall in 2005 to take up a Duchy tenancy on Penbugle farm and immediately put the land into organic conversion. SWFC’s Anna Heaton started working with them in 2009 – and has provided business support and advice ever since
There have been a lot of changes over the years at Penbugle Farm, near Liskeard in Cornwall.
From being a single, 105 ha site in 2005, the farm now includes an additional 40 ha of land at Muchlarnick; and from being a livestock farming enterprise, the Ridout family has introduced many diversifications, including camping and glamping in wigwams or bell tents with an associated pottery studio as a wet weather activity for the campers (managed by Lizzie and daughter Maddie) – and even dog hydrotherapy (daughter Stephanie). Whenever you visit, the farm is always buzzing with activity.
Organic hens have always been the mainstay of the farm business
Focus on farming
We’ve seen some significant changes on the farming side, too. John and Lizzie’s son, Rueben, returned from college and is now working alongside John, helping to manage the farm. In 2005, the cattle herd was pedigree South Devon, but over the last few years, the Ridouts have switched to Red Devon cattle. This breed works really well in the organic system and will finish completely from grass, whereas the South Devons needed a bit of concentrate.
Red Devon cattle work really well in the Ridout’s organic system
Organic hens have always been the mainstay of the business and numbers have recently increased. Initially, all egg sales went through Stonegate to supply Waitrose stores, but over the years the family has built up a successful direct sales business alongside wholesale production.
The sheep at Penbugle are mainly Lleyn
Six hundred ewes, mainly Lleyn with a few Dorset, complete the livestock side of the business, with most lambs finished on-farm and sent to local abattoir, Jasper’s Lamb Ltd. In the past, the family also kept pedigree Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. While the pigs were much loved by Lizzie (and SWFC’s Anna Heaton, too!), their destructive nature was hard to contain and, with all the other enterprises and diversifications taking up increasing amounts of time, the pigs became one thing too many to manage.
The rotation on the arable land has also varied over the years. Currently, a mix of winter brassica crops (turnip, kale and hybrid brassica) is sown on around 16ha of land each year, to be followed by an arable silage mix that is undersown with a new grass ley that is maintained for 3 or 4 years, before the rotation starts again. This ensures there are some good quality leys alongside the lower-input, species-rich permanent pasture elsewhere on the farm.
SWFC support in action
Over the years, one of Anna’s key roles has been to provide SWFC’s Organic Pre-Inspection service: in other words, helping to create order out of the chaos of the farm office and getting everything ready in advance of the Organic Farmers and Growers organic inspection each year – no small task with the range of enterprises at the farm!
Our Organic Pre-Inspection Service is designed to create order out of chaos
But between organic inspections, Anna’s is there is to ensure everything is being managed according to the organic standards and that the necessary derogations for seed and livestock are in place, answering any queries the Ridouts might have.
Anna was also responsible for setting up and managing the original claim for the Organic Entry Level scheme and, more recently, the Mid-Tier agreements for the farm, as well as submitting BPS claims each year.
Aside from that, it’s about keeping in regular touch – especially right now when they can’t all sit around the kitchen table together – to chat about the wider farming industry and ensuring the Ridouts are up to date with what might be coming down the line in terms of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme and other potential opportunities.
Here’s hoping for many more years of collaboration with the Ridout family.
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