Maple Field Milk – milk for the under fives

The latest news and “political comment” from Nick Snelgar.  Demand for his milk is rising so he’s looking for investors to help build up the dairy.  Do get in touch if you can help – contact ruth@feanetwork.org

Many programmes and articles bemoan the fact that production of interesting things is shrinking in Britain, and disappearing or going ‘off shore’.  Why is this?

We all love strawberries.  Once the Vale of Evesham held 1000 acres of fruit.  Now only one farm remains mainly because it diversified into ‘glamping’.

The Vale of Blackmoor to the south of Shaftesbury hosted 1000 dairy farms. Not now.  We all love milk.  It is in every fridge in the land.

Now you can buy cheap strawberries from Senegal and cheap, sloshy milk from Poland.  Does it matter?

You have to marvel at our climate and our soils and our ability to grow just about everything.  But then the cheapness of everything is allowed and encouraged to compete directly with that ability.  Our cleverness and connectiveness with all the world is allowed and encouraged to take over.

Strawberries from Senegal. If you asked anybody………. “Would you like your strawberries to be grown next door or in Senegal”?….They would say “Next door”.  Only the price and the smooth intervention by a supermarket buyer ensures that your strawberry can NOT be picked next door.  And the price difference is made possible because we are prepared to quite openly steal someone else’s labour……..oh……..and their precious water.

And with milk – you hear the monotones of the Dairy Chief Adviser to the industry telling us nothing about the future.  He stares into his statistical tea-leaves and remains largely silent.  Global trade in milk is a nonsense. Why would dairy farmers be encouraged to look for markets overseas?  All these  countries  are perfectly capable of growing their own milk.  Even Saudi Arabia manages somehow.

It is all meaningless Henley-on-Thames rowlocks.

Once more become involved in producing the things you consume.  Join Maple Field Milk.

We, at last, have become a registered supplier with Cool Milk.  They control and pay for the supply of free school milk to the under 5s. We have started to sell to local schools.  Odstock Day Nursery is our first and we are very excited.

Pigs are coming back onto the holding to soak up the waste milk and to keep us amused.

Nunton Farm is rolling up round bales of hay which they then leave out in the kale field for the winter feed for the outwintered spring calvers……….What a fantastic system. The milking herd is in Bungalow field today (very little upstairs).

Our cows in the water meadow at Laverstock (Riverbourne Community Farm) have had their nails done. The four redpolls have joined the group and they look fab.  The bail is getting a coat of paint.

We can’t wait to start milking.

Nick Snelgar

July 20 2016

Maple Field Milk – the Perfect Run

12th June 2016

No: it’s not a great half marathon; not the Cresta run, nor slalom on snow – It’s the perfect  uninterrupted pasteurising run to produce fresh local milk.

I wound out the milk pipe and bolted it on to the bulk tank at Nunton Farm. The cows had crossed the road to the Ebble meadow for the morning nosh. The world was organised and at peace. The milk gushed into my IBC tank inside the new Citroen Relay van with temperature control set at 4 C. Back at Maple Field I plugged the IBC into the pasteuriser via the special ‘port’ in the wall. I switched the cream separator on and pressed ‘start’.  A thin fountain of orange cream fell obediently into the bucket.  The motor hummed in no particular strain.  The pasteuriser stayed firmly within its pre-set temperature marks – no warning lights; no alarms and no plunging into ‘divert’ mode. Tracy was soon bottling the 1050 litres of milk needed for tomorrow’s deliveries. Fat test samples taken, labelled and made ready for posting to National Milk Laboratories, Wolverhampton.

You can link the eager line-up of staff at Nunton Farm bustling about their jobs with lively efficiency to the eager customers awaiting their milk delivery on Monday.  You can imagine the count-down to Maple Field energy drink;  you can imagine athletes pausing on the treadmill to have a swig.

Dave harrowed the badly winter damaged acre of land at Maple Field and I hand sowed it with a herb rich mixture from David Bright Seeds Ltd (one of our doorstep customers). It contained meadow fescue; Timothy; Cocksfoot; clover – two sorts; chicory; yarrow and sainfoin plus two sorts of Int and late Diploid which I don’t understand. Slowly, with wide sweeping gestures of the right hand aimed toward the horizon, I followed my markers like an explorer in the Sahel.

Rain swept in on Saturday night and Sunday morning with more to follow.  The conditions could not be better for infant grass seed.

There are eight of us now working towards a future for dairy farming.  When she returns from holiday, we shall engage another roundsperson. Her name is Lorraine.  Then there will be nine.

Another family of dairy farmers have  made contact with us for advice on how to save their herd.  They get 18p per litre from Muller. They are going to halve their herd down to 50 cows. They will go all-out grass fed and sell direct.  Just what we want.  Just what Matt Dale was saying at the conference.  These people like our system.  That makes nine dairy farmers beating a path to the open door of Maple Field Milk C.I.C.

We need a band of enthusiastic green investors to help us start building micro-processing plants in the style of Maple Field.  We need a spectacular athlete to add their name to our brand as the Best Energy/Sport drink in the world (Dame Kelly are you listening?).

I must go and clean the Citroen Relay and listen to Mike and the Mechanics followed by Allo Darling.

Keep dairying; keep talking; and seek out those customers.

Nick Snelgar

Editor’s Note:  If you are interested in helping promote micro-dairies through positive investment, then please get in touch. ruth@feanetwork.org



Maple Field Milk – Making a Meal of It

I’ve been silent.  I’ve been ill for four weeks.  Now I’m back.

Everything became difficult.

On top of  a beastly respiratory illness, the van fell silent in a pool of engine oil. The cream separator developed a wobble.  Ruby the cow died leaving her orphan calf Ruben for us to feed.  The new grazing land two villages away became forbidden ‘terroire’ owing to TB reactors in the next door field.  That left us with 11 dairy cows  on three acres at Maple Field farm with the rain falling every day.  Talk about ‘mob grazing’  – the land quickly turned into a Nebraskan feed lot. We fed haylage and they lay around on piles of wheat straw. And it rained……….

Now I’m back and gripping the tiller.  We have negotiated  another grazing agreement on 58 acres of beautiful land for a period of five years.  On May 17th we shall move the herd and the milking bail over to the new land and get started.

We are recruiting a new driver for Mondays. There are now eight of us.  Five female and three male. Equal opportunity employers or what!

Nunton Farm dairy cows were out on grass the first week in February.  The spring calving half of the herd never go inside.  They out–winter on kale and barley straw on the high ground by the hospital.  In February/March they come down to the calving paddocks and gradually join the milking herd. They are Free Range 360! (360 days) This is a fab farm to work with.

Two Sundays ago on BBC Countryfile  I watched a young dairy farmer go out of business.  They were being paid 17p per litre. Maple Field Milk C.I.C.  pays Nunton Farm 40p per litre.  What a tragic waste. What a thing to happen to a strategic and vital industry. Séan Rickard (economist) looked upset. But he stuck to his line of     “That’s the market – supply and demand – get bigger” etc etc.

Anyone thinking of giving up – why not talk to us first. We might be able to show you another way before you throw yourself onto your teat-cup liner and cease trading.

Here’s a thought……Don’t march in protest – talk and convince. Talk and convince your customers. Talk and convince and laugh with them – add in the laugh…. “youre avin a laugh” (Ray Winston).

There is a mirage of marketing between you and the money. Walk towards the mirage and disperse it – SELL DIRECT.

The Balmer Lawn Hotel, Brockenhurst make butter from our cream and dust it with lava salt.  10 Castle Street, Cranborne make mozzarella cheese from our fresh, non-homogenised milk and we can eat it the next day.  Paul Thomas (cheese maker/teacher) takes 80 litres of whole milk down to River Cottage HQ to demonstrate cheese making. Fisherton Mill, BH24 and the Borough Café all make endless coffees  from our ‘stretched’ proteins. This is dairying. This could provide a future for the trade. Come to Nunton Farm on OPEN FARM SUNDAY 5th June.

Have a look at BH24 (BakeHouse24, Ringwood) on facebook and see what they are up to.

Listen to Nancy Kerr and the Sweet Visitor band……oh and The Milk ….     and the latest Bail FM obsession which is Madelaine Peroux.

How can it be the end of dairy farming? No it’s not…….It’s the beginning.

Nick Snelgar

May 1 2016

Maple Field Milk – Birth of Hope

9th January 2016

Imagine this.  I am loading the van with crates of fresh milk at 6.45am on Monday 4th January.  The radio is on tuned to Radio 4 Farming Today.  I draw closer to the radio to avoid the lashing stairrods.  I hear the clear voice of Colin, our leader,  talking such utter sense about the Oxford Real Farming Conference about to begin in the town.  They give equal radio time to Colin and to the spokesperson for the Oxford Farming Conference.  Their differences are carefully and professionally dealt with.  As I handle the fresh local milk about to be delivered to the shops within 20 hours of milking, I feel stronger and as if I am on a path to somewhere.  Colin speaks so solidly about sensible scale farming businesses: to replenish the worn out soil; to have more people not less – I feel as though we are really part of something.

Then,  would you believe, to round off the perfect week, low, on Friday morning I am loading the van at the same time and I hear Ruth speaking so clearly and with such belief and urgency that once more I set off with the force behind me. Both our leaders speaking directly to us and urging us to go forth and farm and sell and bring this renaissance about. Needless to say, our customers got a good ear-full both days.

The Balmer Lawn Hotel in Brockenhurst is turning our cream into Balmer Lawn butter.  The George Inn, Fordingbridge are doing the same (all from their own ‘sponsored’ cow named Rosie).

We have been approached by a professional cheesemaker and teacher. His name is Paul Thomas (www.wheymaker.com). He finds our milk absolutely perfect because it is pasteurised at the correct temperature of 72 degrees C.  Any higher and the important enzymes are killed stone dead. He is teaching at All Hallows cookery school and at River Cottage HQ and will be promoting our fresh local milk.

The Brown-Swiss dairy cow is the most numerous on earth.  It is found all over North America, India and eastern Europe. Our seven (with little Hope) are wishing they were in India.  Even on our chalk terrain the pasture is turning into a cheese cake.  They can poke their heads into the massive Enclosure Act hedges that surround the plot and turn their rumps to the incoming stairrods.

I have been asked to help start another Futurefarms operation in Iwerne Minster, Dorset ……possibly with a dairy  to begin with. 2016 is going to be exciting.
Bail FM is playing our new favourite band – The Milk and the song is called ‘Deliver me’. Ruby and Faith (Brown-Swiss) look scornful and bored. They are used to much better .

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk – House Cow

3rd September 2015

Achievement of the week – we have had our figures and projections and future plans picked apart and seriously analysed by a fab specialist. Robert Fraser, whose CV  reads like the captain of an economic battlecruiser with particular experience and interest in agriculture and its immediate future, did the job.

How could anyone possibly make anything approaching a profit from milking 22 cows?

Well Maple Field Milk looks like they can do it. The processing side alone turns a profit. This is profit whilst paying the farmer 40p a litre over the gate. It follows that our new micro-herd of 22 will pay the herdsperson at the same rate. Profit will be generated sufficient to repay a start-up loan; certainly able to present a serious business plan to a potential landowner/farmer in order to rent land; certainly able to start in dairy farming from scratch.

The International Harvester 574 has an ominous ring of AF spanners (American Fine) arranged on its bonnet like an Anglo-Saxon necklace. They are waiting for someone to bark their knuckles on its lovely old engine.

I’m trying to listen to Soud Massi singing “Enta Ouzahrek”. Myrtle keeps trying to interrupt. It is best listened to through head phones. She would look ridiculous in head phones.

Spiders are reminding me it’s autumn with sudden floating nets dragging across my face. Oh…and Myrtle is eating blackberries.

The George Inn, Fordingbridge, have reached  a total weekly usage of fresh local milk equivalent to the output of one cow per week.  The chef and his four kitchen staff went mad with excitement. “Can we call it Georgina?”. “Can it have a purple hair-do like My Little Pony?” “Can we tether it on the river bank?” “Who’s going to milk it?”.  This is where it’s going. This is enthusiasm. This is connection. Suddenly people are wanting their own ‘house cow’ again. Does it matter?  Of course it matters. The enemy of all-round cheapness can be dissolved in the soft alkali of enthusiasm.  People can see the point. Maple Field Milk is sliding into Fordingbridge and onto the citizen’s doorsteps like an incoming tide.  Sandbag your houses against the flood of fresh local milk.

‘Farmers For Action’ David Hanley wrote an article in the Farmer’s Weekly in which he said that someone should sit down and work out how much milk each family in Britain uses.  I agree with him. When I’ve changed the fuel filters on the International Harvester 574 and bandaged up my knuckles I’ll make a start on the sums.  I keep chanting, whilst following Simon of Nunton on a religious progress through ankle deep grass (sternly waving a bucket of steaming molasses instead of incense)……. ‘if you can’t sell it – don’t produce it’.

The secret seven new fab cows arrive at Maple Field Farm on Tuesday bringing with them our future and wearing a rich and famous past. They will pass under an arch of raised syringes as our vet practice presents arms on their celebrated and long awaited arrival…..testing for every disease known to vets.  We want to be a totally clean herd  and totally modern.

This is it. We are dairy farmers. No going back. This is it. Martin Parish will become the only village in Hampshire – probably in Britain with its own herd; its own processor; and its own community farm – Futurefarms-Martin Ltd. It can be done.

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk – Autumn Calves

22nd August 2015

Ten new customers last week. 16 new calves borne at Nunton. Is there a link? Logan the calf rearer is back. Small paddocks around the milking shed are clustered with pregnant mothers on the count-down. Simon of Nunton recites his litany of grass.  Grass does not mind the rain.

I leave the farm at 8.05 with 900 litres of fresh milk in my tank.  By 8.20 I am connecting the pipe to the pasteuriser at Maple Field.  It is that fresh and that quick.  The cream separator is humming on its new rubber mounting blocks from the Black Country.  The orange arc of cream dabbles into the bucket at a steady rate.

Would you believe………the seed company that provides Simon of Nunton with new grass seed has contacted us for fresh milk deliveries to their offices nearby. The circle is complete. He grows the precious seed and delivers it to Nunton farm. They take it; drill it and grow it. The cows graze it. The frothy fresh-as-a-daisy milk is delivered straight back to their offices to nourish them while they grow more seed. What could be more exciting (worth a serious ‘google’- Bright Seeds).

Souad Massi singing ‘O Houria’ (Liberty) quite lovely and Myrtle is quite lovely with the evening sun on her back – and the rain…..we like the rain. Our new meadow is waiting for us. We walk it; measure it; still can’t quite believe it. Stare at the view of the church spire. View of  nine hundred years with our tiny contribution stamped on it in dung; in words; in physical energy; and in fun.  Fresh local milk will once more flow from the chalk strewn pastures straight into the local fridges.

We may have clinched a big and essentially fab customer. We’ll know on Wednesday. More next week and more on our new recruit and what it means for the future. I now already need a head torch in the mornings to decipher deliveries. Season is moving on.

Tune into Bail FM.

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk – Rapid Response to Dairy Crisis

This is the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) of Maple Field. I have just overheard the  dairy rep of the National Farmer’s Union – Ms Davis.  I have just heard her sawing hopelessly at her violin while her dairy farmers go to the milking shed wall.  I have just overheard her on Radio 4’s PM with Eddy, the have-no-nonsense presenter.  At least I suppose the disappearing dairy industry has made it to the top studios just before it reaches vanishing point. That’s a good thing.  No-one mentions FAIR TRADE DAIRY.  The retail Consortium weedle out of it by blaming the Russians.  Ms. Davis trots out meaningless stats about the ‘cost of production’ as if that was a finite figure that everyone agrees on.  What other industry defends itself with such a  weak argument?  Can the cost of producing a Peugeot be in any way matched or compared with the cost of producing a Nissan. Finally Ms Davis tells us to “Look for the Red Tractor on all products” and the Dairy farmers will miraculously be paid a good price for their precious milk.

Maple Field Milk has a colourful splodge on its label which says  LOCAL & FAIR. That’s the ticket.  Stop talking nonsense about world prices.  Stop staring over the horizon at the Chinese and the Indians like tall-ship sailors searching for landfall.  Get back to the difficult bit. Sell your fresh local product ‘direct’ to the consumer.  Also………..  milk is sold in litres in the modern era.  Why would anybody be interested in the cost of a ‘pint’?

Is that clear from the RRU?

Achievements of the week . . . . New windscreen wipers on the van;  another milk round started;  another roundsperson recruited;  another ice cream maker using only Maple Field milk and cream and a storm of rain on our fab new meadow. Keep on dairy farming!

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk – the latest tale and news

July 26 2015

Have you lost a ferret?

This is the bright yellow notice that greeted me  at 7.30 on Monday of last week on the door of Whiteparish shop.  Immediately those early sleepy people gathering their milk and papers joined me in convulsive laughter. This desperate appeal to the Parish of Whiteparish…… Have you Lost a Ferret? Wouldn’t you know if you had lost a ferret? I ask you……

Fatoumata Diawara singing ‘Wilie’ (with an e-acute which I don’t know how to do on this machine) has become the obsession of the moment on Bail FM. Much to the annoyance of Myrtle.  Our cows are soon to be joined by another nine from another place. These fresh cows are brown and foreign and used to ‘transhumance’ (going up into the mountains in the summer). We shall have to transhume them through the village from Maple Field to their new fields at the other end of the Parish with the parson on hand to bless their passage and the gardeners at the ready to protect their roses.

Can you believe it? A dairy farmer near here, over the border in Wiltshire, is being paid by  his processor an unbelievable 14p per litre for his raw milk. The writing must be on the milking shed wall. We have to call out this matter.  Not so much a ‘Spot Market’………..more a ‘Spot- the-Shyster’.

Nunton cows are grazing in Pumphouse and Gulliver’s field swishing about in the rain-soaked grass. I can smell the meadow sweet on the air as I pass.  This is farming.

Nick Snelgar

Hats off to Maple Field Milk!

June 16 2015

Tracy Jones has been awarded an MSc in Organic Farming. Many prolonged congratulations to her. I, in turn, have awarded myself an MSc in Applied Agriculture on the small scale (MScAAsc). In 2003 I first wrote of my hope and belief that it would be possible to milk dairy cows; process and bottle their milk; and provide the immediate village and surrounding community with fresh, local milk.

In 2004 I founded a community farm with my friends and fellow believers – believers in a modern, community led provision of fresh food from land within the Parish. It is called Futurefarms-Martin Ltd.(www.futurefarms.org.uk)

In 2010 we built the first buildings on Maple Field Farm, Martin. We renamed the four acre field. It used to be called ‘Plot Known as 4 Acres’. This was the name given to it at the time of its enclosure in 1832. Maple Field comes from the row of Norway Maples planted on the verge at the time of the Jubilee in 1978.

We started bottling other people’s milk in June 2013. Now……yesterday, I negotiated permission to occupy 37 acres of beautiful meadow grazing land. Great thanks to our new farmer landlord who has made this possible. We can now go dairy farming.

I took the final permission to rent the 37 acres of land as the ‘finals’ in my MSc. This is the result of 12 years of work and research. We have persuaded a very successful farmer in our own Parish that our modern dairy business model with 20 cows is viable and worthwhile. How exciting is that?

Micro–breweries now number 1000+ in Britain. Near us there are four. My friend Greg Pilley (Community Supported Agriculture expert) founded Stroud Brewery and his bottled beer turns up in Andover. The movement arose from the Campaign for Real Ale in 1976. The brewery system then was much the same as the dairy system now. A handful of mighty brewers mass producing watery, homogenous Watneys Red Barrel beer; pumped and fizzed and wanting in taste and cheap of course. CAMRA uprooted the industry by rallying customers for action. They gave us micros and pop-ups and back-to-pub brewers. Most industrial estates have at least one shed full of yeasts and tanks and shiny pipes with towering stacks of metal casks outside. Downton (Wilts) has two.

The Dairy Industry in Britain has shrunk to two major processors –Arla and Muhler-Wiseman, with secondaries like Dairy Crest and OMSCO (an organic milk cooperative). So how is this competitive? Does the free market ultimately eat its own leg? Why have we ended up with a duopoly? It must benefit the few not the many. Do the end customers actually notice all this rock bottom cheapness? Most when asked do not know the retail price of fresh milk.

People who buy milk (everyone) do not automatically also buy bottled water. A comparison of prices for bottled water and for fresh milk is completely pointless.

We need Customers for Action. We need Ray Winston dressed as a modern dairy farmer on a big wind-bendy poster at the entrance to the super market car park. Inside  the super cathedral to consumption I want the tannoy system to frequently describe the need for FAIR TRADE DAIRYING ending each line with Ray Winston … ‘you’re avin a laugh’.  That should fix it.

The worry is that while concentrating on and listening to the geo-political position and all its underbrush of complexity; while glancing down at the GPS (Global Positioning System) on the tractor dash; while searching the folds of the world map for potential markets for our produce beyond the horizon – we may lose sight of the soil.

This morning on Farming Today Charlotte Smith was talking about dairy. This week it is dairy week on the programme. The CEO of OMSCO was very excited about selling organic cheddar to the USA.  Well there’s an idea. The USA has more clever cheese makers from more walks of life than you could shake a cheer leader’s pom-pom at. What a waste of time.  Giving penniless Devon farmers false hopes of great financial returns. Oh…..and if you look at your world map for a minute, there is Ireland between Devon and the USA. Might that make a difference once the Irish get wind?

I know someone who has just sold their herd of 100 cows. She was being paid 20p a litre by her trusted processor. Her business failed. Perhaps she could have sold 50 cows for £50,000 and kept the remainder? With the £50,000 she could buy a processing plant and commission it. With the remaining 50 cows having their output sold onto the doorstep of her nearest town, she could continue in the dairy business. Just a thought.

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk: How micro-dairies could supply all the milk needs of Salisbury

6th June 2015

Let’s try and develop the idea in last week’s blog of networks of milk micro-processors together providing fresh milk for the whole of the country. This is the reverse of what’s happening now. Let’s take Salisbury with 60,000 humans to feed. That might divide into 15,000 families or households.  Each household will consume four litres of fresh milk per week.  We know this. That means we need 20 cows to provide for 500 families day in day out. (20 cows yielding 2000 litres/week). 30 microherds therefore will satisfy that population.  Form a ring of micros around the town at a safe distance.  Pass their delicious magic high-energy milk through seven micro processing plants like Maple Field Milk.  This is exactly how you feed a town.  A low impact, really energetic milk community dashing from street to street with the good stuff. That’s 600 dairy cows all in small groups, all with names, living in separate parts of the peri-urban farm land. How interesting is that? Oh…………and we could have one particular herd stationed next to our fab NHS hospital providing their needs of 1600 litres per week.  The patients could see the cows from their beds. The nutritionists might go into a swoon.

We’ve cured the pulley squeak on the Transit van. Thank heavens. Three doorstep rounds people have been recruited. What a week! Heavy rain seems to keep on falling. Simon of Nunton is ankle-deep in grass.  He is looking forward to tomorrow. It is OPEN FARM SUNDAY.  So appropriate. He can climb into the dairy pulpit and preach his gospel of grass.  His congregation is growing thanks to us.  I feel like the loyal curate.

Our Environmental microbiological tests came back from the lab at Porton Down with a massive ‘pass’.

The clever scientists test for entrobacteriacea living in the milk post-pasteurisation. This bacteria survives heat treatment and  causes the milk to go off eventually or in our case within eight days of processing. This test is very important as it describes the cleanliness of our plant and the devotion of our procedures whilst bottling ‘ready-to-eat’ food. Our results were >1. Fab. They are not able to give you a zero. After two years of production our plant is whistling clean. Our procedures are spot on. Trumpets are being blown.

I am reading ‘The Edge of Extinction’ by Jules Pretty (Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex. He is an associate Member of Futurefarms-Martin). Not because I think dairy farmers are on  this precipitous ‘edge’……..well of course they are really. But because Jules Pretty is a terrific writer. His subject seems to be part of him. Brilliant reading.

Next week I want to look at the success of micro-breweries in our local area and relate this to developing  micro-dairies.

Nick Snelgar