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  • Ann Adams

Lynbreck Croft, Regenerative Wilder Farming

By Ann Adams

Visit TNF’s website to read the book review of Our Wild Farming Life by Lynbreck Croft in the Winter 2022 issue.

Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer did not come from farming backgrounds. Lynn grew up in Ireland and Sandra grew up in Switzerland with summer holidays in Scotland. They met in 2012 when they worked in southeast England as apprentice Park Rangers for the National Trust. There, they learned not only basic ecology and the chance to develop practical skills but also that they had a shared vision of living close to the land.

They moved to Scotland and worked planting native trees for rewilding projects as they looked for their land. In August 2015, they found the 150-acre Lynbreck Croft located in the Cairngorms National Park. They moved to the property in March 2016. They suddenly realized that they would need to be farmers in order to manage this land in a way that held true to their vision of caring for the land and raising food for themselves in what they have come to call Regenerative Wilder Farming.

Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baers in front of a firewood pile
Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baers

Starting a Regenerative Journey

Luckily, in 2017, they saw an advertisement on Facebook about Holistic Management training with Holistic Management International (HMI) Certified Educator Tony McQuail from Canada. Lynn went to the course and immediately wished that Sandra could have come. “I knew how much value we could get from the training if we both went,” says Lynn. “We started to get to know people with Soil Association Scotland and they brought Tony to Scotland in 2019 to lead another training.  Sandra and I both made sure to be there.

“I came away from the first training with the thought of how much everything Tony talked about made sense. It wasn’t oversimplified. The first core thing was that before getting into farming, you have to have your own personal context since it’s going to affect everything going forward. From the farming side of things, we had only been here a year and were new to everything about farming. So, when Tony wrote on a flip chart, ‘You are the expert on your farm,’ it was so great to see that. Farmers are never told they are the experts. They don’t get that kind of reassurance and praise. We can get input and thoughts, but we know the most about this place. The other thing I got from the course was on finances. Tony talked about how you decide how much money you make. That idea gets you thinking about how much money you can save or avoid spending. It affects the triple bottom line. There is empowerment in getting to know yourself, that you are the expert and that you control the finances.

“Another farmer at the training told us to work with what we got. He asked, ‘What are your assets without spending more money or learning anything new?’  We have a great small farm, a great location with a local market, and our own skills. Sandra is good at working with animals and very intuitive. Our holistic planned grazing and mixed species are part of our setup. I have skills in talking to and engaging with people, so I do the sales and marketing side of the business. I believe open and honest communication is marketing, so we build the business from there. 

“We started working on our holistic goal from the beginning. The first day of the training was context setting, learning about Tony’s journey and figuring out our own context. Then we looked at the grazing chart and learned how to understand the science and the biology behind it, and then learned the figures. The last day was the financials. There are so many farmers running at a loss even with government subsidies. We are in charge of our finances.

“The 2019 training was so valuable and truly life-changing to work through everything together as a couple. It has given us a foundation that has never really shifted. Knowing why we are doing this as a couple is reassuring. 

“We have so many situations that Holistic Management has helped us with our decisions. Two years ago, we had breeding female cows, and we would take cows off the farm to the bull. We’d wait nine months and calve and work to breed a cow that would be super resilient in our system. But, because we have such a small setup, it took more time, money and stress to follow that model compared to what we were getting out of it; we weren’t delivering holistically.  We decided to buy one-year-old steers and knew we could find good animals. ‘Have we failed by changing our actions?’  No. Instead, we tried one strategy, but now feel empowered to change to another when it doesn’t work. Our context gave us the strength to change.

“We also used to keep sheep to run with cattle. After one year, we knew sheep were not for us. They took too much time. When we asked ourselves why we were doing it, again, the training empowered us to make the decision not to run sheep. 

“The first time we sold our produce, it didn’t make a profit. This was in 2017, and we were very new to farming. We knew this business model wouldn’t allow us both to work full-time on the farm. We knew we either had to take on more animals (which could degenerate the land) or make more money on our product. Our land is our most valuable asset, so we thought, ‘How can we add value to our produce to get more value?’ We developed our customer base by sharing our story, developing YouTube videos, etc. We focused entirely on direct sales, developed a small butchery and added value to our product. Pork belly might sell for £1/kg ($1.25), but if we smoked it and sliced it, we could get £15/kg (~$19). 

“Developing our business model took four years, but we now are both full-time on the farm. Our business is built on diversification. All the benefits we want for nature, for feeding our local community and for feeding us are dependent on that. Our challenge right now is managing our own time. We have put ourselves last for those four years, so we are trying to work on that now. We are improving all the time and trying to fast-track the concept of ‘working smarter.’ We talk about the importance of resting the land, but we need to work at resting ourselves.

“In the last two years, our gross income has doubled. We were running at a loss for the first three years as we invested in infrastructure. Now, we are paying bills and putting money aside. I am really proud that we don’t take a government subsidy. The diversification stream is what is keeping us going. It makes us feel less at risk of outside influences with different markets fluctuating or subsidies changing. The Holistic Management training taught us to be business savvy - that size is not important, but what you do with what you have counts. There are massive farms here operating at a loss. Looking at your profit margin is key.”

Partnering with Nature

The community response to Lynn and Sandra’s focused efforts on improving their land and building a viable business operation in a relatively short amount of time has been telling. They have won numerous awards, including Newbie UK – Best UK New Entrant Farm Business 2018; Cairngorms National Park – Cairngorms Nature Farm Award 2018; Scottish Crofting Federation – Best Crofting Newcomer 2018; Farm Woodland Award for Young People – 2019; RSPB Scotland Nature of Scotland Food and Farming Award December 2019; and Compassion in World Farming – Sustainable Food & Farming Award.

They planted over 30,000 trees and became members of the Pasture Fed Livestock Association, participated in numerous educational videos developed by Soil Association Scotland and film their own videos as part of their educational outreach from their website. They also wrote a book, Our Wild Farming Life: Adventures on a Scottish Highland Croft, published by Chelsea Green and have appeared on BBC’s “This Farming Life.” They have a “How to Farm” course and regularly lead tours of their farm.

But all this attention doesn’t distract Lynn and Sandra from their focus on the land and their desire to partner with Nature. Their team members include Highland cattle, Oxford Sandy and Black pigs, chickens, bees, trees for forage and shelter, as well as the soil microbes in their produce garden.

Holistic grazing planning is key to Lynn and Sandra’s work with their animals and they are seeing their efforts pay off. “Our animal units/hectare are still in flux,” acknowledges Lynn. “We notice much more forage through our visual observations than when we started and we may need to buy in less for the winter, depending on when the snow starts. We are targeting moss with bale grazing, and now the sward has much more diversity. With the bale grazing, we are getting more productivity where the moss used to be.

“Our vision with the chickens was that they would follow the cows, but because of the hilly terrain, our egg mobile can only be used in the flatter areas. As the grass grows, the cattle move through first and then we target areas with the chickens. We move the fence down the hills and leave the egg mobile on the top so we can cover more area. The egg mobile stays in one area for 5 days and might only come back to that spot one more time in a year. “

Currently, Lynbreck carries seven steers getting ready for finishing, two one-year-old steers, and one matriarch cow that settles the steers. They stagger the buying in of animals as they carry them until 24 months. Although they have 150 acres, they only have 70 acres of grazing. Forty acres are bog, so they can only graze at certain times of the year. They also have 10 acres of woodland, which leaves 20 acres of pasture.  The bog is used for summer cattle grazing with grazings of three to four days at a time. In the winter, the pigs graze the bog while the cattle bale graze the pasture and are moved once a week. During the last three weeks of the winter, the cattle are held in the bog before the grass flushes in the pasture.

The cattle are managed based on a 30-day recovery.  Moves are slowed down in the summer to allow for 55-60 days of recovery. The hens move into a grazed area a few days after the grazing to scatter pats and work large patches of moss. 

Lynn and Sandra work to build up stockpiles to extend the grazing season, which goes from mid to late May to mid to early December. They harvest the animals in October and buy new cattle in May. They work with a local butcher to get smaller cuts that they can process further on the farm and market as tree fodder-fed and grass-finished meat. They use the trimmings from the trees to feed the leaves to the cattle, who can take up to 12% of their diet from trees. 

They have planted a variety of trees, such as willow, alder, and rowan, specifically for animal feed and shelter. They have also planted oak, aspen, and hazel; cattle will eventually go into these areas for fresh browse and shelter. They are planning for the long-term future as these trees grow slowly because Lynbreck is on the eastern side of Scotland. Even with an enviable 38 inches of rain (950 mm) per year, this region has harsh winds and temperatures that can slow tree growth. 

What the Future Holds

Lynn acknowledges that there were many challenges for her and Sandra as they learned about agriculture with no farming background. “At first, we thought that lack of knowledge was a disadvantage,” says Lynn. “But, now we see that lack of knowledge as a big advantage because we had no preconception. It’s been a financial challenge. We were able to buy the farm, but there was no agricultural structure here when we moved, and we didn’t have the money to invest. So, again, the key principle of Holistic Management was so important - work with what you have. We needed to pick the right animals and enterprises for the land. 

“It’s just the two of us and we don’t have any surplus money. We’ve purposefully stayed the size we are because we enjoy our tasks and don’t want to grow. You feel the pressure to continue to expand and grow, but we are content with what we have, focusing on quality-of-life elements and remaining community-focused in what we do. 

“We’ve worked hard at sharing our story and engaging people with our actions. That has helped us be able to charge what we charge. We have meat boxes and eggs by subscription. In the summer, we sell extra eggs through an honesty box at the end of the lane. The less stock we have to hold, the less risk for us. Our selling model is fairly efficient. With our boxes, we have a delivery route and it’s all done in a handful of days. The finances are all handled through the website, which allows us to stay focused on the farm.

“Our vision for the future is to really focus on our quality of life. We are going to carry fewer animals and get more time. We had a five-year plan, and we achieved it. We don’t have a new five-year plan because we are remaining open to what we might learn when we slow down. It feels good not to know what we will be doing.”

To learn more about Lynbreck Croft, visit All photos, unless otherwise marked, are provided by Lynbreck Croft.

This article was first published in HMI's publication, IN PRACTICE. To learn more, visit

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