Maple Field Milk: why micro-processing and micro-dairies are the future!

22nd April 2015

A perishing cold wind blows from the North East.  The cows are sheltering under the froth-blown hedges adrift with blackthorn flower.  The grass is long enough to tremor in the wind.  Simon of Nunton (theologian of grass) tells me we have passed the ‘magic’ day of April 18th.  This is when grass growth exceeds demand for the first time in the year.

I spent a day in Oxford last week at the Old Fire station talking  with a group of people about microdairies.  The meeting was organised by the Real Farming Trust.  I hope it brought alive the fresh approach to dairy farming.  It’s not new.  Very little is really new.  We are reviving Arthur Hosier’s (1929) great idea of outdoor milking on the move…………on the mooooove so to speak.

At the Old Fire station I met a delegate who follows this blog.  He said that he felt I had become obsessed with the processing side of microdairying.  He is right. Without a clearly defined market for fresh local milk we would have no microdairy. It is all important to get that processing absolutely right.

We have lived a monastic life for three years.  The first 18 months involved the design  and build of the processing room and the milking bail.  The last 18 months have been spent working up the milk sales and getting familiar with the difficult process of pasteurising.  Also I was single-handed for those 18 months.  Now Kevin has joined it is much easier; more solid. Really, the Fire Station meeting was a chance to publish the findings and the results of the three year pursuit of customers, knowledge and experience.  At this point  we have proved there is a large market for glitteringly fresh, non-homogenised, 24-hour old milk.  We have convinced an existing dairy farmer (Simon of Nunton) that there is a local and immediate market for his milk.  We have produced a business that pays the farmer 40p per litre instead of a measly 23p/litre (or in some extreme cases only 16p/litre).  This constitutes FAIR TRADE to the farmer and all our customers are proud of that.

It therefore follows that our microherd of 20 cows (when complete) will yield the herdsman (me)  a sensible living off 20-30 acres of ground.  There is no doubt about it.

And on the cow side of  the small holding there is much to attend to.  We have our annual TB test on April 27th.  Our charming vet Nicola Bentley will deftly set about her work.  She likes our milking bail set-up.  It makes the perfect outdoor cattle handling system.  The cows come into their familiar stall and eat some of Uncle Den’s breakfast cereal doused in molasses (we may start marketing ‘Uncle Den’s’).  The new bail we are building for the National Trust Scotland will have a neck crush on the exit gates to absolutely provide a cattle handling device suitable for vet work and for Artificial Insemination.  Go ANYWHERE.  The bail also doubles as a two-cow transporter should you wish to collect someone else’s cows or take yours down to the village green for a picnic nosh up.

Turn up the bail radio with the new obsession band – the American band “the Weepies” singing Hummingbird.  Myrtle stares into the distance blankly.  She prefers “Allo Darlin”.

The International Harvester 574 (68 Horse power) starts first time.  All praise to the American engineers who assembled her in 1976 Chippawa Falls, Michegan USA.  Its hard to imagine the strength of 68 horses being compressed into a lump the size of an engine block.  I think of it every time I start her up.  I think of the hay the horses would have eaten.  I think of it being compressed under colossal force and heat into engine oil.  I think of the sun on the backs of the horses now being released as energy.  I actually like the smell of burnt diesel on a spring morning.  Am I alone in this?

The  nesting blackcaps provide a background chortle to our activities.  American engine, Bail radio and blackcaps – not a bad working environment for Nicola the vet.

Nick Snelgar

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