background and history.
Phil White of D’Oyleys always knew he’d return to the family farm one day. He’s the fourth generation of Whites to farm the land between Stadhampton and Little Milton in the beautiful South Oxfordshire countryside. Phil studied agriculture with the full intention of heading straight into the family business but ‘after a sudden rush of blood to the head’ he joined the army. 25 years later he returned to his roots and two years ago became, along with his wife and two children, the full time custodian of the land he grew up on. Phil’s father had always had an instinctive approach to farming. He realised long before many other famers that there was something not quite right with spraying fields with chemicals and had an interest in conservation. Ironically in the 70’s and 80’s his ideas were not seen as progressive but the land spoke for itself: ‘People would comment that the farm always had a good, easy soil - that didn’t happen by accident’. Now Phil’s father’s ideas are, quite rightly, very much in vogue and Phil is keen to farm the land and livestock by keeping nature in balance.
D’Oyleys is a 250 hectare mixed farm with arable, livestock (cows and sheep) and poultry (turkeys and more recently, chickens). Phil is experimenting with rotational grazing throughout his farm with the understanding that a healthy soil is the very foundation of farming, whether you’re growing crops or rearing livestock. This technique involves moving herds from one small parcel of land to another on a regular basis which results in the animals eating the best grass and not having the chance to over-graze, giving the land the opportunity to regenerate. Roaming in tight herds like this is also the natural way animals would behave if left in the wild and Phil has been amazed at how much the pasture quality has improved along with the increase in biodiversity which all contributes to the health of the land and the animals. Growing herbal ley (a seed mix full of clover, a natural nitrogen fixer) is also something Phil has been experimenting with to improve the structure and fertility of the soil as well as providing an amazing natural, high quality food source for the animals: ‘It’s like rocket fuel to the lambs!’.
Phil is keen to keep his animals outside come rain or shine and they are only moved into their airy, straw-filled barn briefly in the very depths of winter for as short a time as possible: ‘they love being out in the fresh air and I’m increasingly leaving them out for longer periods of time’. All of the livestock, from the chickens to the cattle, are free range with space to roam and are predominantly grass fed. Phil’s goal is to farm with highest welfare standards and he believes that being a farmer is really about acting as a steward of the land for future generations while also providing an excellent living standard for the animals in the here and now. This forward thinking, yet traditional approach to farming results in happy animals which produce a high quality, tasty meat you can trace from farm to fork.
Phil has both Shorthorn beef and the famous Aberdeen Angus at D’Oyleys Farm. The Shorthorn herd was inherited from his father and he describes them as: ‘Lovely cattle - docile and a joy to work with’. The Aberdeen Angus are a more recent addition and are extremely well suited to the grass based system that Phil employs at the farm. Phil tries to keep his herds grazing out in the open as much as possible, rotating them between fields to ensure they get the best of the grass. Keeping his cows happy is a prime concern, not only for the animals’ welfare but because a calm, unstressed cow will produce a better product at the end of its life. His herd is relatively small at 200 cows but Phil goes for quality not quantity and the marbling in the meat of both of his native breeds is fantastic.
Chickens are new to D’Oyleys farm although the family has been rearing turkeys for over 60 years! Phil has brought in a flock of Hubbards - a classic, traditional chicken which come in a day old to the farm. The birds are free range and given plenty of space to express their natural behaviours. They are outside from 2 weeks old and free to graze their pasture which is moved on every five weeks to fresh ground. Phil is keen to produce a ‘slow-grown’ chicken and his birds are reared until roughly 12 weeks old which is significantly longer than most supermarket chickens. The chickens never leave the farm and the meat is hung for improved flavour. The results speak for themselves - larger chickens, full of flavour which taste so different to the meat many of us have grown used to.
Phil has a flock of 300 ewes at D’Oyles farm, mainly lovely North Country Mules which are big sheep with a fantastic maternal instinct. All the sheep on the farm are grass fed and free to roam and are regularly moved around to fresh pasture as part of Phil’s rotation grazing system. Although Phil currently brings the ewes in to lamb, he’s recently bought in hardy ‘Lleyn’ sheep which are suited to the outside lambing system which Phil is keen to move towards as a low intervention, natural method of farming.
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