Episode 75 - Show Notes & Advice

Grow, cook, eat, arrange podcast 75
Grow, cook, eat, arrange podcast - 75

episode 75 | show notes & advice

Today Arthur talks to Tom Davis, Farm Manager of Mudchute Farm, a London city farm set in 32 acres on the Isle of Dogs, just 15 minutes’ walk from Canary Wharf. A huge supporter of rare breeds, Farmer Tommy, as he’s known on instagram, has driven the growth and quality of the rare breeds at Mudchute, and is paving the way for greater conservation grazing in cities - including famously putting sheep outside Buckingham Palace. Tom is also a livestock judge, a trustee for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and passionate about educating people about eating seasonally, locally and supporting British growers. 


In this episode discover

  • City farming and specifically Mudchute Farm, the largest inner-city farm in Europe
  • Conservation grazing and how it helps our natural biodiversity
  • The importance of eating seasonally, locally and supporting British farmers
  • Britain’s role in rare and native breeds on a global scale
  • How to choose a rare or native breed


Episode 75 advice sheet

From Battersea to Mudchute

Not from a farming background, Tom was born and raised on a council estate in Battersea - a third-generation painter and decorator. At 8 years old, Tom visited a nearby city farm and from that moment, knew he wanted to become a farmer. After school and college, recognising his natural affinity with animals, he bred and kept poultry, moving onto sheep and cattle, until eventually taking on the role of Farm Manager at Mudchute.


Rare breeds at Mudchute

Tom arrived at Mudchute when there were just five Oxford Down sheep and some Red Poll cattle, while the rest were either cross breed or very old. With a strong determination to add value to the Mudchute story and a passion for rare breeds, combined with the necessary support, Tom successfully drove the rare breeds initiative at Mudchute, which ultimately led to the farm becoming London’s only Rare Breeds Survival Trust-approved conservation centre in 2018. The intention was always to work towards a high health status with good quality animals. Today, 98% of their livestock is rare or native breeds, all pedigree registered and good examples of the breeds they are meant to be. As a direct result of all this hard work, not only have the Mudchute breeding animals gone all over the country, but one of their Middle White pigs was selected for export to Japan to breed British pedigree pork.


UK breeds

Over the years, we have selectively bred our animals to create the breeds that we have across this country, for particular purposes and to suit certain geographical locations. In the UK, we have over 68 native breeds of sheep – that’s more indigenous sheep breeds than any other country in the world. Plus, many of the big sheep industries in the world are actually founded on British breeds, like the Dorset, the Border Leicester and the Suffolk.


Tom’s mission at Mudchute Farm

·      To encourage people to eat less meat and of a better quality

·      Support British, local and seasonal growers

·      Teach people, especially children, where food comes from and do it alongside nature with high welfare for the animals

·      Give people an interactive day out with farming and in the natural environment

·      Increase the biodiversity on Mudchute farm

·      Greater recognition for the value of our native breeds - some more rare than the Giant Panda


Conservation grazing on London’s Royal Parks

Traditionally, famers from all over the country would tender for the grazing rights of the Royal Parks. If successful, the sheep were sent to London by train, driven to the parks and unloaded by shepherds and herdsmen. Many of the sheep were Northern sheep, not used to such rich, southern pastures, so they would do very well on it and then to Smithfield Market to enter the food chain. 


Through his role of Trustee for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, Tom was involved in planting the last Coronation Meadow at Bomber Command with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. A conversation ensued on how wildflower meadows used to be managed with the grazing of rare and native breeds, including down in London, which led to Tom being asked to provide livestock. Within the year, along with the accolade of being photographed with sheep on the grass in front of Buckingham Palace, Tom had six rare breed sheep grazing on London’s Royal Parks - the first since 1949. From those initial six, Mudchute now has many ‘9 to 5 commuter’ sheep grazing the Royal Parks daily.


Grazing to increase natural biodiversity in cities

From conservation grazing on Green Park, to a trial on Hampstead Heath, Mudchute is looking to return more livestock to London’s green spaces, to help restore the natural biodiversity. The range of wildflower species that pop up following cattle and sheep grazing is immense. For example, in the last five years of grazing Green Park, wildflowers such as wild carrot and chicory have spread rapidly, which is entirely due to the broadcast of seeds via the digestion of animals.  


Showing livestock

The Mudchute livestock travel the country for shows, something they are now very used to, as is Tom in his role as livestock judge. Becoming a judge came about from showing regularly, and showing well consistently, although having ‘Tom Davis – London’ on the sheep schedule with some very knowledgeable, older Northern farmers present, didn’t win him many friends initially. It was his knowledge and skills as a judge that won them over. Keeping a good number of the breeds on the rare breeds watch list himself, Tom knows what he’s looking for and judges based on his interpretation of the breed standard – not the person showing.




Why we go to shows

A huge part of the shows is the social side, however, it’s also about the competition. The intention is to win, despite what anyone says about the taking part. The livestock is a shop window of the quality of animals that someone is producing, so it helps people to see the quality and how long or successfully they’ve been breeding a particular breed. It’s also important because everything has a standard. Any show, is in pursuit of perfection – whether it’s livestock, plants, flowers or veg. Besides, who doesn’t love going to an agricultural show?


Tom’s tips for choosing a breed

·      Pick something you like the look of

·      Look at what you want to do with the animals, i.e. conservation grazing

·      Consider the area or space you have to keep them, and the time you have available

·      Don’t restrict yourself to rare breed livestock - also consider heritage and heirloom varieties of fruit and veg – vital to our horticultural and agricultural heritage.


Tom’s chosen breeds for a desert island

·      The Aylesbury duck

·      Whitefaced Woodland or Norfolk Horn sheep

·      Middle White or Large Black pig

·      Golden Guernsey goat

·      Shire or Suffolk Punch horse

·      The iconic English Longhorn or traditional Hereford


Visiting Mud Chute

Mudchute Farm is a registered charity, open to the public and completely free to visit.

It’s just 15 minutes’ walk from Canary Wharf (on the Jubilee line), a short walk through the Greenwich foot tunnel, or take the Docklands Light Railway and get off at Mudchute station stop.