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Our working farm is set within 126 hectares of Hampshire countryside, as well as a further 134 hectares at another site. This provides a real work environment for training and skills development. There are a number of farm units that operate on a commercial basis and students undertake regular farm duties as part of their course.

The Agriculture facilities are also a key resource for research and dissertation projects on-site for our higher education students studying Agriculture at University Centre Sparsholt. Find out more about our undergraduate courses here.


Take a look at the key areas that make up the College Farm:

  • Beef & Dairy Unit:

    Beef & Youngstock Unit

    The main aim of the Beef Unit is to maximise the value of the calves born by dairy cows. Beef animals of all ages are used to teach cattle handling to all students who require it. Calves born will be either be pure Holstein heifers, which are raised to weigh at least 350kg at service and 500kg at calving, or Holstein males and crossbred calves of both sexes.

    As an Autumn calving herd, older calves will be fattened for market at 16-18 months of age. Later calves are reared as stores and sold to local cattle finishers in Spring. A small suckler herd was started in 2017 from home bred stock.

     

    Garstons Dairy Unit

    In the ever changing world of dairy farming, producers constantly have to adapt their production methods to survive. The College is not immune to commercial pressures and fluctuating values for both milk prices and inputs. Also there is a nitrate legislation which has a substantial cost attached in order to comply.

    To ensure the future of milk production at the College and therefore safeguard the unit as a teaching facility £9500 was invested in the Dairy Unit and the herd changed to Autumn calving to better fit with teaching requirements and term time.

    Although smaller than the average herd, Sparsholt Holstein cows are consistently well placed on the Kite Consulting Twice per Day League Table for Southern England.

    There has been a recent investment of £25000 to upgrade the milking parlour environment and improve ventilation.

    Students and staff attend local country shows such as Royal Bath and West and New Forest Show. The team is known as Sparsholt Holsteins and is designed to teach an enhanced level of husbandry in a competitive environment alongside other commercial producers.

  • Pig Unit:

    The College is proud to have a purpose-built pig unit. The unit is a member of RSPCA Freedom Food and Farm Assured British Pigs, a scheme that involves routine monitoring by veterinary surgeons in order to maintain high standards of animal health and welfare. The unit was carefully designed to give the pigs as much comfort and freedom as possible, within the confines of a commercial enterprise.

    Recently we have teamed up with The Royal Veterinary College to film 360 shots of our pig unit. The footage will be used for a range of educational purposes including teaching Jordanian Veterinary School students husbandry techniques.

    The pigs are housed in social groups wherever possible on straw bedding. The piglets have an area where they can sleep under a heat lamp.

    Piglets are weaned from the sow and enter the weaner house when they are 28 days old. They are fed ad lib using an automated feeding system. They start on the weaner pellets and have two different diets during their time in the weaner house.

    Pigs enter the finishing house when they weigh about 40kg and leave about 100kg. They are fed ad lib using an automated feeding system and the pens are cleaned out on a regular basis.

  • Sheep Unit:

    The Sheep Unit’s main objective is to be used for education and training purposes, demonstrate good husbandry and management practice and contribute towards the farms profitability.  The College flock is lambed early so that agricultural students who are going out on work experience can experience lambing.

    By lambing early in January the College is able to provide maximum opportunities for students to learn and experience lambing at the College ahead of the usual lambing season when students are able to reinforce their skills in the commercial sector during weekends and holiday periods. Approximately 20 are carried over for the Autumn for student use and to tidy up the main college grazing areas through eating any excess grass growth.

    Students and Staff attend local county shows such as Alresford Show to show the sheep.

  • Soil Series:

    Soils with similar characteristics and derived from similar parent materials are grouped together as a soil series. Four main soil series have been identified at Sparsholt. These are Andover Series, Wallop Series, Winchester Series and Charity Series.

    Andover Series

    The profile is essentially shallow, brown, flinty loam over chalk and typically it is associated with sloping ground. Usually it is under arable cultivation with a considerable local variation in soil depth. The shallow Andover soils have a characteristically striped appearance under cultivation due to chalk being brought to the surface. The lower end of slopes have deeper phases grading into the Charity Series. Productive capacity is limited by their depth and water holding capacity, although they are fairly drought resistant since roots can penetrate the soft moist chalk. They may set very hard in a dry summer, hindering autumn cultivations, especially after a grazed ley. They are usually deficient in potash.

    Wallop Series

    Shallow layer of clay-with-flints overlaying chalk. It occurs typically on convex slopes at the edge of the Winchester Series and also in isolated patches on elevated land surrounded by Andover Series.
    Profile shows brown or greyish brown clay loam to clay, very flinty overlying reddish brown flinty clay resting directly on chalk. Transitional between Winchester and Andover Series in character and potential production.

    Winchester Series

    The profile shows brown flinty clay loam to clay, over flinty clay ranging from reddish brown to yellowish brown which will indicate drainage characteristics of the series. The thickness of the clay, the drainage characteristics and the lower base status (lower pH value) distinguish this from the Wallop Series. Liming may be necessary on the deeper profiles. Heavier to cultivate than the Andover Series but considered a good wheat soil.

    Charity Series

    Colluvial material derived from the chalk and clay flints resting on disturbed chalk or brown flinty clay mixed with chalk. Profile shows at least 375mm of brown loam, often flinty resting on disturbed chalk or brown flinty clay mixed with chalk.
    Freely drained, soil depth favours a satisfactory moisture regime for crop growth on the Andover Series.

  • Field Cropping:

    Sparsholt College has a cropping profile which provides for the needs of the livestock enterprises. Further land off-site provides additional forage supplies, arable cropping for income generation and enhanced fieldwork opportunities for students.

    Crops include two-year grass leys for growing bulk hay and haylage crops, forage maize, lucerne and forage rye. The forage maize crop is used for feeding the dairy cattle and beef finishers. Where possible the College has linked up with commercial forage crop seed producers to provide demonstration days for farmers and growers.

    Maize 

    Early maturing varieties suit the calving pattern of the dairy herd. Maize planting commences towards the end of April on land which has received farm yard manure application from the College dairy unit. The maize seed is usually coated with a standard seedling fungicide and Frit Fly treatment. Weed control is affected primarily through the use of residual herbicide with follow-up of tank mix products to eliminate nightshade weeds which escape and would be highly toxic to cattle. A residual herbicide is not used where a catch crop of grass follows maize. Harvesting of maize normally commences in mid-September depending upon the varieties grown and the season. Growing maize also creates field work opportunities for students such as muck spreading, ploughing, cultivation and drilling.

    Grassland 

    The College Farm has a far higher percentage of grassland than would be normal for this area of Hampshire. This is due to the number and variety of livestock enterprises required to support the students in their learning. The grassland can be classified into three broad types: long term, short term and permanent pasture. The short term ley, generally two years, is based upon Italian and Hybrid ryegrass. The utilisation of these leys is predominantly for early grazing by sheep and the dairy herd. These leys, given adequate rainfall, are capable of bulk silage yields of up to 12.5 tonnes of dry matter per hectare.
    Long term leys are located closer to the dairy unit and form the basis of the spring/summer grazing area for the dairy herd, with any excess being eaten by sheep. The composition of these leys includes a wide variety of perennial rye grass which provide a steady level of grass production throughout the season and clover which helps to maintain palatability, feed value and fixes nitrogen. The permanent pasture is used for sheep and horse grazing.
    The College herd has a paddock grazing system. Paddocks which get ahead of the cows are closed and cut for silage. The College takes great care to plan a programme of grass fertilising which pays due regard to the existing fertility indices in the soil, together with residue supplied by organic manures from the variety of livestock enterprises on the estate. The application of organic manure is scheduled according to the waste management plan. Programmes of fertility are also carefully matched to the species and health of the sward, in order that yield and quality are optimised with due regard to the potential hazards of excess fertilisers in the environment.

    Lucerne 

    Lucerne is grown to provide quality forage for feeding to our dairy herd. Lucerne is high in protein (18-22%), drought tolerant and is cheap to grow. It requires no nitrogen fertiliser and only needs seeding once every 4 years.

     

    Find out more about off-site field cropping on our additional land

    Little Buckholt Farm 

    This 20 hectare farm is approximately 13 miles from the College and is owned by a member of the College staff. Previously a dairy farm, it is well fenced with adequate water troughs for each field. The College has an arrangement with the owner to rent the land and pay a small stock checking fee. This enables the College to reduce its stocking rates during the summer months, knowing that the stock are properly looked after. Any excess grass is cut for hay.

    Farming Land at Winterslow 

    In 2012 the College acquired the tenancy on 100 hectares of arable land at Winterslow, near Sailsibury. The need for extra fieldwork opportunities had been identified and this block of land allows us to provide extra field scale tractor driving, as well as generating data for students to use.

    In 2015 the farm was entered into the Higher Lever Scheme (HLS). The farm needs to have approximately 7% of its farmable area in conservation to meet both HLS requirements and to meet proposed changes to the single farm payment. Difficult to farm field corners were removed from cropping and planted with plants designed to feed birds and insects.

    Some of the options considered to meet the entry level requirements of the scheme are:

    • management of field corners – this was chosen to protect 3 different types of orchid growing in one area.
    • 6 metre buffer strips on cultivated land – this is a development of the 3 metre strips put in the first year. 3 metre strips were planted to keep the farming activity and the public separate. Certain areas have worked so well that rare plants have been found and therefore the strips which require it will be doubled in width to protect these rare
      plants.
    • Hedgerow management one side of hedge – most of the boundaries only have one side of the hedge available to us. To improve them as best we can, we will only cut them once every 3 years to allow them to thicken, giving better nesting sites.
    • Over wintered stubble – these areas designed to produce food for seed eating birds over winter.

    To further enhance the farm, the following extra options are being considered to lift it to the higher level requirements:

    • Management of high value hedges one side – these hedges are identified as those producing a large amount of winter food or being significant nesting sites, especially for tree sparrows and dormice.
    • Nectar flower mix – planted in strips or field corners to produce food for insects and some birds.
    • Restoration of species rich, semi-natural grassland – the area with the orchids will be expanded to allow a bigger area for ground nesting birds. The soil in this part of the field is very thin, and would not support good yields from cereals.
    • Floristically enhanced grass buffer strips – areas planted to keep farming and the public separate. The farm has 3 footpaths. These areas are proving very good for butterflies.
    • Enhanced wild bird seed mix – these areas are designed for producing seed for birds over winter.

  • Involvement of students with the College Farm enterprises ensures that students benefit in the following ways:

    Active participation in routine livestock duties

    Experience is gained in the commercial functions associated with care and management of livestock units. Students are supervised by well-trained, experienced farm staff. As well as the basic husbandry the students are able to build on a whole range of useful skills including time-keeping, motivation, diligence and attention to detail.

    Livestock and fieldwork demonstrations under the supervision of staff 

    Aspects of animal welfare, routine veterinary tasks, weighing of stock and the use farm machinery form the basics of linking practice with theory. The pig unit, calf rearing unit and sheep flock provide valuable opportunities for hands-on experience with the support of staff. The livestock units support programmes of practical instruction for animal management courses, as well as the agriculture courses.

    Practical facilities linked to environmental management, countryside skills and woodland management

    The estate provides the opportunity to demonstrate conservation and management practice whilst providing hands-on practice and an abundance of investigative assignment opportunities.

    Data and information for lessons and assignments 

    Farming, managing the countryside and recording the information generated gives rise to invaluable material for both staff and students. The College Farm operates an open book approach to all aspects of its commercial farming, providing a wealth of invaluable live data for both staff and students.