Bev Trowbridge and Dave Crabb have owned and lived at Muriwai Valley Farm in its current location at Ahuroa since 2004. Prior to that they lived for 7 years on a smaller farm in Muriwai Valley on Auckland’s west coast, and so they brought the farm business name with them when they relocated to a bigger farm. Bev is the farmer having owned and run a pastoral farm running heritage breeds in Devon, England before emigrating to New Zealand in 1996. She has been farming now for more than 25 years.
Having previously trained and worked as a professional ecologist for 20 years, her approach to farming is, not surprisingly, to work with the natural soil ecosystems that provide the basis for all food production. Her farms have all been run on biological/organic farming principles, and used regenerative methods to restore natural ecosystems within the farm. The current farm is an intimate mosaic of fertile pasture, wetlands, river systems & regenerating and mature bush, each ecosystem supporting the other. The pastures are clover-based, providing natural fertility enhanced by a high diversity of grasses and herbs (aka weeds). It is these deep-rooted herbs that provide the livestock with much needed minerals and trace elements to keep them healthy.
When she first took over the current 97ha property in the Komokoriki valley behind Ahuroa, there was scarcely any topsoil on the property, and the ground was hard, compacted and didn’t grow much grass at all. In just 10 years the fertility of the farm has been restored so that it supports a much higher stocking density than surrounding convenional farms, through all seasons of the year. This has been achieved through careful restorative farming practices which nurture the soil first and foremost, so that there is now 15cm or more of beautiful dark crumbly topsoil over the whole farm, and with a porous friable subsoil that plants can get their roots into. This means that come drought or come torrential winter rainfalls, we grow grass!
Bev has always tended to favour the use of the older or ‘heritage’ breeds of farm livestock, understanding that these breeds had stronger and more diverse genetics than most of breeds developed since the second world war for more uniform and chemially supported farming systems. She believes that these older genetics can still be used to great effect in a modern farming context, especially in more extensive farming systems where their stronger constitutions are a positive advantage, and where their many admirable and overlooked traits can be used to great effect. This is particulalry so when a farmers market or local organic market is sought for your produce, where the extra qualities of taste, texture, and cooking are really appreciated and where there is more personal relationship with your livestock as well as customers. On our farm all animals are encouraged to exhibit their full range of natural behaviours and live contented, stress-free lives. The high percentage of natural cover on the farm provided by native trees and wetlands means that there is always shade and shelter available.
She also keeps stress down to an absolute minimum in the way that she manages and handles the stock. Although she runs many hundreds of sheep over two rugged and diverse blocks of land, she does so without the use of farm dogs. This is possible because of her approach to shepherding, which uses the natural intelligence and behaviour of the sheep, rather than the usual fear-based predator-prey instincts. No chemicals, drugs or prophylactics are used on the livestock, instead their natural immunity is supported by their stress-free and nutrient–rich lifestyles. This makes for healthy happy animals, and healthy happy people!