Commonwork's Organic Dairy Farm aims to run a successful social enterprise that makes the best possible use of the available physical, financial and human resources.

The farm is also a vital part of Commonwork's education programme. 

Commonwork Organic Farms Ltd, an organic dairy farm, has farmed the land at Bore Place since 1976. The land itself has been cultivated for over 1,000 years.

The farm became fully organic in 2000, following a four-year conversion period, and aims to create and maintain an agricultural enterprise that makes the best possible use of physical, financial and human resources, in terms of:

  • long-term ecological viability and economic sustainability
  • animal welfare and health
  • attention to quality of products
  • workforce involvement and motivation
  • appropriate rural employment
  • valuable resource for our education programmes
  • profitability as a measure of excellence.

Farm team

  • Mike Cottrell (Managing Director)
  • Mark Oxley (Farm Manager)
  • Martin Roberts (Herdperson)
  • Thomas Grand (Herdsperson)
  • David Hall (Tractor Driver/general farm worker)
  • Charlie Nichols (Repairs and Maintenance)

We have local Secondary School students doing short term work experience on the farm and annual placements for Emerson College students. We provide work placement experience for veterinary students and have long standing links with Hadlow College staff and students.

The land

The farm lies on 200 hectares of heavy Wealden clay soil. To make the best use of this we put in an extensive system of field drains and fencing to make it suitable for a dairy herd.

Following organic conversion, the fields were re-seeded with either a red clover and grass mix, or a white clover and grass mix. The red clover/grass mix is cut for silage on a two- to three-year rotation with cereal crops, which can also be cut for silage.

Since 1999, we have farmed a neighbouring farm (Somerden Farm) and converted this to organic to enable us to grow more arable crops, such as wheat, triticale and field beans to feed our herd. This gives us a total of 318 hectares of farmed land.

The herd

The herd consists of 240 Friesian-Holstein, Swedish Red x Holstein and Montebeliarde x Holstein milking cows, and 110 followers: heifers (young cows) bred for herd replacement and male calves sold for beef, or reared for rosé veal or beef. Calving starts at the end of August and continues to the end of January.

Artificial insemination is carried out on all the cows by farm staff, using a variety of breeding stock. The best cows are mated with either Holstein, Swedish Red or Montebeliarde to provide 55 heifer replacements. These will calve when they are two years old. The gestation period for cows is 284 days. We also keep a bull to ‘cover’ those heifers that don’t conceive following artificial insemination.

Following organic conversion, the stocking rate of cows per hectare has fallen from 2.1 cows per hectare to 1.5 cows per hectare. The cows also have more room in the sheds, including their own sleeping areas and mattresses.

The winter feed is supplemented with fewer concentrates since conversion and these are free from animal protein, chemical treatments and genetically modified organisms. The calves stay on whole milk (not powdered milk) for a minimum of 12 weeks and are not wormed. Instead they will graze ‘clean’ pastures that haven’t been grazed by cattle the previous year and so should be relatively free of worms.

The cows are only given antibiotics when absolutely necessary and on the advice of a vet. Instead, we are gradually learning new skills in homeopathy, natural treatments and disease prevention.

Farm buildings

During the winter the cows are housed in a new building, giving the cows plenty of space and each cubicle has a mattress under a rubber mat. An integral feed passage enables the herd to be grouped according to dietary needs, and hygiene is maintained by having dairy treatments and slurry treatments at opposite ends to each other.

The milking parlour was updated in 2003 and is a 20x20 herringbone, direct to pipeline with automatic cluster removal and milk transfer. Milking takes place twice a day, starting at 5am and 2.30pm with each session taking an average of four hours to complete.

Ahimsa Dairy Foundation

A small number of cows are producing milk for the Ahimsa Dairy Foundation. Based in north west London, this is a not-for-profit company that was set up to provide entirely slaughter-free milk which it currrently distributes to the door in North West London and parts of Hertfordshire, with drop-off points in other areas of London and the South-East.  More information about Ahimsa here. This working partnership between Commonwork, the Ahimsa Dairy Foundation and OMSCo provides opportunities for each of us to explore other food and farming approaches.