At the recent BCVA Congress, VetSalus Director, Alasdair Moffett, presented a case study around regenerative agriculture and how vets can work with their clients.


Definition of Regenerative - Oxford English Dictionary – To regrow or be renewed or restored, especially after being damaged or lost.

To discuss regenerative agriculture it is necessary to have a hook upon which to hang the conversation; so keeping the above definition of Regenerative in mind, this case study aims to demonstrate to the practicing UK farm animal vet, that the majority of what regenerative agriculture is about, doesn’t have to be radically different to what many vets are already in engaged with.

What is regenerative agriculture and the key principles?
  • Minimise soil disturbance - There are more micro-organisms in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on Earth. These living organisms create soil fertility, but disturbing them through tillage or by using chemicals destroys the soil structure, reducing nutrient cycling and drainage.
  • Maximise crop diversity - Increasing the range of crops and animals in the system decreases pest and disease pressure, while supporting biodiversity and improving soil health.
  • Keep the soil covered - this helps to protect the soil from wind and water erosion, while preventing moisture evaporation and weed germination.
  • Maintain a living root all year round - is vital to ensure soil remains structurally sound and rich with organic matter and micro-organisms, thereby helping to retain water and store carbon.
  • Integrate livestock - Livestock grazing not only provides a natural source of organic matter, but also encourages new plant growth, which stimulates the plants to pump more carbon into the soil.

A sixth spoke can be added to the regenerative agriculture wheel - understand farm context - no two farms are the same, and the principles should be implemented based on the environmental, economic and human factors at play on each farm. Some of the confusion and complexity inevitably linked to sustainability and regenerative agriculture is that for different farms this will mean different things. Vets cannot afford to be scared of these intricacies but need to work collaboratively with clients to ensure they’re financially viable, productive and have a positive impact on the environment of their farm.

Case study - Marsh farm


Photo credit for both images: Anthony Butler, Crutchley's

  • Farm receives substantially more rainfall than the surrounding area but has predominantly heavy clay soils
  • 6-700 cow herd were kept indoors with youngstock and heifers reared on another site, on farm
  • Production on farm was high (average 10-11,000 litres, milking 3 times a day on a grass and maize TMR)

However in 2020 the economics of the dairy were still unfavourable. The farm owner, Arthur Crutchley, wasn’t content with profitability or environmental impact:

“We’re on quite marginal land, and we were trying to push production a bit too much. The grass baked out, quality of silage was poor and there wasn’t enough of it. We wanted to become more sustainable.”

Recent changes:
  • Mustard, brassicas, and radishes have always been used as a cover crop (grazed by sheep).
  • Recent change to 250 acres : 80 acres of winter bird cover, 80 acres of nectar mix and 2 year fallow legume mix.
  • Grazing fields have been planted with herbal leys, part of the 320 acres used for continual maize production are now on a maize, wheat and spring barley rotation.
  • The decision was made to reduce the size of the herd to 400 cows, switch to autumn block calving and turn the cows out to grass through the summer months.
Overseeing this transition a number of factors had to be taken into consideration
  • Dropped from 38 litres to 30 litres, however this is comparing an all year round calving average with a peak lactation average. Cows remain healthy.
  • Regular weighing of young cattle is already the norm. Reduced growth rates will be used to indicate the need for worm treatment. Faecal worm egg counts also have a value in predicting future pasture contamination.
  • Redwater is also a local issue so monthly spot on treatment, fly tags and redwater vaccine are under consideration.
  • Lungworm vaccine will be utilised next season along with liver fluke faecal egg counting prior to turnout.
Grazing strategy:
  • Some existing perennial pasture and new herbal lays have been utilised for grazing this year.
  • Cows have been stocked at a moderate to high rate moving on every 3-4 days, some compaction was still observed.
  • Stocking density and grazing time per field may need to be altered to alleviate this next year.
Looking back on the changes made over the previous year:
  • Soil disturbance has been minimised
  • All year round soil coverage has improved: living roots are being maintained in the soil
  • Overall species biodiversity has improved

These changes have incorporated aspects of regenerative agriculture into the system with scope to do more. The role of the farm vet has been key in overseeing these changes.

One of the critical points for vets is to engage with farmers, show an interest and begin discussions with them. Vets can bring a broad perspective including animal health and welfare but also from a human employee and employer view point; that perspective is one step removed from the farm but comprehends farm economics and productive requirements.

Vets are also consumers and potentially have a clearer understanding of the many misconceptions the public have regarding farming, and the wider societal disconnect between the food producer and the supermarket consumer.


To keep up to date with our work please follow our social media channels, Twitter and LinkedIn, finally make sure you sign up to our newsletter by registering as a user on our website - here