LOCAL, NATURAL, REGENERATIVE
These words reflect Herd's core values - Local, Natural and Regenerative. We make our yarn and garments from field to finishing within 150 miles of the farms, and we have worked closely with our supply chain partners to remove all toxic and synthetic chemicals from the processing so that our wool comes to you clean and as natural as the sheep intended. It seems now like a good time to really get under the skin of the Regenerative part.
What is regenerative farming? It's popping up everywhere in fashion and in food, in products from all over the world in different climates and geographies, in both small and large scale farming operations and in arable and livestock farming systems. Regenerative/holistic/nature farming involves taking tilling (ploughing), synthetic growth and pest/weed control products out of the process of growing food and fibre and utilising livestock, rotational planting and soil cover to restore soil health, which supports a biodiverse, carbon sequestering (drawing down carbon and other greenhouse gases) ecosystem. Most farms currently in the world use growth promoting and 'weed' killing products on their land which alongside overgrazing/overproduction of monoculture grains and beans such as rape, wheat and soy, is resulting in the depletion of the soils via the killing off of its' fungal and bacterial composition. If you are interested in finding out more, start with Alan Savoury who has a wealth of fascinating videos to watch.
The principles translate into different practices all around the world. As you'll learn from Alan Savoury most of the world is at risk of desertification, of fertile land becoming desert due to extractive farming practices, but this is not a risk for the United Kingdom where Herd is based because of the high levels of rainfall. We have the opposite problem - too much water - which because of the lack of complexity of trees, plants and grasses on our island means the water drains off too quickly and floods, causing massive damage to landscapes, towns and coastal areas.
Sheep have a sometimes maligned role in farming. They graze grass very low, so if an area has a lot of sheep on it and is not given a chance to recover the land will become exhausted (overgrazed). But sheep, like all ungulates, can play a positive role in farming by roaming broadly and managing their own health via a varied diet of different plants and managing pasture, spreading seeds and natural fertiliser via their muck. This helps the soil remain a diverse and resilient resource for plants, and in turn means bugs and insects, which means pollination, and birds, and the distribution of seeds, and small mammals... and on it continues up the food chain. If allowed the space and access to natural resources sheep can be very independent, meaning less need for shelter, medication and human intervention in their lives.
But where are we in the UK? At present there are isolated pockets of farmers who have taken it upon themselves to begin farming regeneratively, often financially motivated as the model of expensive inputs and ever decreasingly profitable outputs (as the world produces so much food, far more than the current needs of our population) fails to provide them with a liveable income.
At Herd our first step is to connect with our farmers and establish a guaranteed good price for their fleeces, which they can rely on in years to come. The next step is to discover the ways in which they are currently farming, and which farmers in our network are open to beginning the transition with our support and that of Regen Agri who will be running the process. Then we will establish a baseline with these key farmers and begin to look at improvements in areas like grazing, inputs and stock levels with key indicators like increases in species, water absorption and soil microbiology. In a number of years (we hope five, it may be more or less) we would like to be able to demonstrate that our farms are improving their local ecology, with a view to proving that our yarn and garments actually promote the sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere, making them climate beneficial.
Listen to the podcast recorded by Regen Agri on sheep farming for nature and wool by Leigh Weston from Hill Top Farm and Ruth Rands from Herd.