Maple Field Milk – Is there a Market at all?

May 23 2015

Those who love the ‘market’ love size and complexity.  They look for tasty profit skimmed off vast wholesale trades flashing on and off screens. They love large crates of things forklifted on and off large lorries and ocean bound container ships. There was a big fuss recently over . . . “the biggest shipment ever of English grain from an east coast port”. The grinning merchant waved the ship off from the deserted quay while the farmers said good bye to the slightest chance of profit. This must be the World Market at work. Well good.  And by the way we hear government ministers and NFU dairy people and DairyCo (government quango) chasing the world market for milk. The same “world market”. They encourage the penniless herdsman by promising great waves of milk business from China and India. They overlook the fact that both countries are quick learners. Both countries are extremely able. They will learn to milk cows faster than you say Shanghi.  What nonsense. I know…let’s send heavy expensive dried milk powder all the way to China – yes –by sea. And let’s try and make a profit for the herdsman on the Welsh borders. What complete and utter nonsense.

What might be better is to look at this market and what it means …..really. It means I have milk and someone wants it. It is a raw material dragged from the earth. It has a value. That value is most important and absolutely must be paid for. If it is not paid for at the proper price of extraction then many other prices suffer and erode many other parts of the grand economy. So I produce milk every day and I must find willing people to use it immediately. I really engage in a terrific and terrifying market.  I must not let that milk out of my sight.  That marvellous super-enriched raw product must have all the value rung out of it.  Not flicked across some electronic screen in a split second; not traded down for the loss leader supermarket’s shabby competition.  Not stored in a super-cooled silo for 16 days but used immediately as the delicious foodstuff it most certainly is.

So I as the dairy farmer big or small have a direct duty to bypass the blockade of light fingered traders and buyers and world market economists standing at the farm gate and find those eager people who want my milk. That’s it. Find the people; do an exchange on their doorstep or somewhere convenient to them; collect the money and repeat this for ever.  Instead of Farmers For Action we must encourage Customers For Action.  It’s no earthly good blockading processors on the M5 and Supermarket car parks. The super-smooth buyers simply pick up the phone to Poland, Ireland or Denmark.

This is not original and I have said it before. It is not even my own quotation. But here it comes again. At the moment millions of customers are supplied with fresh milk by a handful of massive supermarkets. This milk is processed by a tiny number of  massive processing companies. We need  the reverse of that.  We need millions of dairy farmers/processors supplying a handful of customers. What do you think?

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk – Looking for Angel Investors

May 13

Caroline of the Borough Café, Downton (Wiltshire) actually phoned up Simon of Nunton (theologian of grass) and dairy farmer who provides her milk through us, to ask whether the protein levels were down this week. This affects the coffee machine as it forces milk into the cup at 12 bar pressure. This is what goes on in Downton. Instead of phoning the coffee machine engineer she can phone the farmer for advice. How many coffee houses in Britain can do that? This highlights the link we form between customer, coffee drinker and farmer. This must be the answer.

We have a new price to construct Milking Bail – 2 (the Marcus) with fully galvanised chassis; Honda engine to drive the milk pump; slightly raised base to ease the backs of the milkers; built-in Bail FM;  and this one comes with stainless steel, two wheel bowser to haul milk back to the Dairy ……..all for the sum of £12,400 plus Vat. Detailed drawings available. Hurry to place your order with MAPLE FIELD MANUFACTURING.

Sandle Heath shop have joined the Fair Trade dairy community with milk deliveries three times a week.  Doorstep deliveries start in earnest on May 18th. We are recruiting for Roundspeople. It is urgent. Hurry to become part of this new food business.

We are looking for an enthusiast/business partner/benefactor/patron to join us in order to open this dairy system to a wider audience all over Britain. Would you like to be that person?

The new chef (Dean) at the Inn at Cranborne is making salted caramel ice cream using 50% of our double cream with 50% whole milk. It is the Cranborne symphony.
TB tests passed. No illness. Thank heavens.

Nick Snelgar

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

Maple Field Milk – What Help Can the Government Give?

The Nunton cows are well and truly out on the steep field under the wood, spreading out, and ankle deep in dew laden spring grass.  That is a wonderful sight.

What is not quite so wonderful is the gross indifference shown towards the herdsmen of these graduated magicians cruising across the slope turning fresh grass into the world’s leading energy drink.

What help can the government give to the hard pressed dairy farmer?

If the market says ‘no’. The dairy processors ARE the market. They tell us that 15% (only!) of all milk products are traded outside Britain. This gives them the excuse to play ‘world market’ wringing of hands.

The processors go to Westminster to meet Liz Truss (Secretary of State for DEFRA) and the bankers. They all gather together and say “…here,here….” and leave the meeting with  no intention of releasing the half-Nelson they have over the dairy farmers.

Nothing works. Every fridge has milk in it.  Think about that.

If I produce milk I want to control what happens to it.  Who in their sound mind would give it to someone else to process and sell? Whose milk is it? Who is the most important person in milk?

Nick Snelgar.

March 11 2015

Maple Field Milk — Good Day Coming On

February 25 2015

I feel it’s a good day coming on. Dawn is up at 6.45. Elgar’s ‘Chanson de Matin’ is playing on the van radio. 1000 litres of bottled milk, held at 3 degrees C in the back. I speed into silent Broadchalke Village. The paper man dashes ahead of me. I am ahead of the game. I feel particularly alive.

The cows of Nunton Farm are all out on the damp dark slopes of pasture leading up to the wood. I hoot as I flash past. They look up……… ‘Now what….?’ I imagine the rasp of their tongues on the frosty grass. I feel delighted that my cargo is their output and so, so fresh. This is a service no-one else can offer.

I speak to 120 people during the course of the day. In and out of gaspingly hot kitchens: up and down two flights of stairs dashing ahead of demand: talking about local food and local milk; cows at pasture; farmers in a pickle and those who are not. Into theatres, cafes, vet’s practices, hotels – feeding the people with the world’s best energy drink. An Irish farmer rings up to ask if we can build him a two-berth milking bail……….of course we can. I hear the story of a violent traffic accident outside one of the shops. This is life. This is our community.

Annoyingly I hear a sprinkling of crumbs of information coming out of the NFU’s annual conference. They say, and the Secretary of State Liz Truss says, that they oppose the EU directive on the ‘three crop rule’ and ‘greening’. So…..the men and women and their leaders, who own and who farm our precious land and who are consigned to the important job of feeding us are against the principle of good soil fertility and proper crop rotation. Why ?

Is it because it is inconvenient ? Is it because it is more difficult? What could possibly be the reasons?

Keep a watchful eye on the Cow Jones Index. Watch the colour of the cream change as the fresh spring calvers come into the herd to be milked.

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk Calls on the new NFU President to Support Mobile Micro-Dairies

January 3 2015

This morning I heard the new President of the National Farmer’s Union speaking. The subject was the new CAP legislation regarding the Single Farm Payment made to every farmer and landowner in Britain. The new rules are designed to nudge famers, particularly arable farmers, towards a cropping pattern of “more than one type of crop”. Not a bad target you might think. Very good for soil fertility. Even better, or at least as good, for the siskins, the hedge sparrows, the fragile pollinators.

The new President said that the new rules would cause the utmost inconvenience and inefficiency to the arable farmers of Britain causing them to scurry from field to field in their enormous vehicles contributing to higher carbon emissions and greater food miles. There you are. That is the leader of the Nation’s farmers putting a scotch on the CAP moves to do it all better. Why doesn’t someone challenge this doctrine of classic “I’ve only got a few years to serve and let’s carry on with what we are used to..”?

I feel particularly annoyed as I see this CAP reform as the moment for Nomad Micro-dairies. We can help the arable boys and girls to reach this wonderful new target. This target of refreshing soil fertility; of making it juicy and water-retaining; of making the country lanes once more the place of browsing cattle who have escaped; of giving the arable farmer the adrenalin rush when the phone rings at 3 in the morning as a motorist spots cattle massed on the central reservation! No…. this could be the way in for the nomad and the youthful and the impecunious. This could make a real difference. I want – we want El Presidente to support us.

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk — the “Cow Jones Index”

31st December 2014

There is a considerable interest in our ‘Cow Bonds’.  Such interest that I think we shall have to be represented in the City.  Imagine John Humphries announcing on the Today Programme, each morning… “and the Cow Jones is up to a new high this morning”.

We live on a four acre field surrounded by tall, thick Enclosure Act hedges planted in 1832. I have talked about this before and with great enthusiasm I shall mention it again.  It is like living in a clearing. We look out on three quarters of an acre of Woodland. We are eternally sheltered by it. There are all the enclosure act favourites: beautiful ‘spindle’ with its extraordinary fruits (Euonymous Europa), holly, privet, sloe (Prunus Spinosa), hazel, ivy, dog rose with hips (Rosa Canina), field maple (Acre Campestre), hawthorn, crab apples, and ash trees which were coppiced a hundred years ago and now are waiting for me and my turn.

I can see the hedge shaking as the cows reach for useful browse perhaps to self-medicate against ancient bovine ailments.

Praise worthy electric fence machine by RAPPA. It sends out its regular flashes of current at 40,000 volts (but no amps) or hardly any.  If you think of volts as the flow of current, like water in a pipe whereas amps are the ‘burn’ of the energy carried – I think this is how it works. The  four-footed damp nosed bovine comes into contact with 40,000 volts trying to earth itself through its warm body. Better than the pointy barb on a wire fence – no blood.  I daresay there are animals that don’t mind the charge.  Ashley Brown is able to hold the live wire firmly in his hand.  He tolerates the convulsions straight through his body with no apparent harm.

We can now sell our cream. At last.  After nine months of puzzling over microbiological test results we find that cream need not be tested at all. If the test results for the milk are good then the cream passes. It all goes through the same pasteuriser at 72 C for 15 seconds. It follows that the cream has been subjected to the same rigorous heat treatment and is therefore safe.

I would say that the village shops are thriving.  We visit 10 shops three times a week.  They are all very busy and full of light and sound and gossip. They sell everything from hot pies to snazzy sunglasses; sun cream to salad cream. They all clamour for the fresh local milk. They are pleased to be associated with Nunton Farm through us.  It gives a strong geographical fix on one of their best sellers.

I like to put my head through the bars of the ring feeder and lean there like a front-row forward in rugby scrum. The cows lean opposite in their own bovine ‘front row’.

Hear this:  Someone has actually suggested putting fresh raw milk straight into a bio-digester ‘on farm’! They hoped this would provide a better farm gate price. Land flowing with milk and slurry. Just when the dairy industry, Dairy Co and the like, are desperately trying to describe milk as the new fab drink – others are suggesting mixing it with trash.  What does the Moo Magician think I wonder?

This is such horrible nonsense. Protests…….blockades……and slurry. Farmers are being paid as little as 26p per litre of milk. Our farmer is paid 40p per litre by us.  All our customers are setting an example. They prefer to buy Fair Trade milk.  The customer-led revolution starts here and now……this year…..come on.

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk — Customer Gander

8th November 2014

Well.….Winterbourne Shop took a crate of Maple Field Milk three weeks ago and now we are supplying 60 litres a week and rising.  Mole Country Stores started in the same way – eager to provide and support ‘Fair Trade’ to dairy farmers at Nunton Farm,  near Salisbury from which we draw all of our fresh local milk.  Our customers know that if they buy a carton of Maple Field Energy drink they are directly purchasing and supporting FAIR TRADE DAIRY. We pay Nunton Farm 40p per litre.  The average from the three main processors in Britain is 30p or less. None of the big three processors would speak to BBC Countryfile programme  two weeks ago when they did a feature on the plight of the modern dairy farmer and his rubbish prices.  We weren’t asked!  Join us at FREE RANGE FAIR TRADE DAIRY and bring about a consumer led procession back to the farm, back to the fields, back to where it comes from……..

While you are doing that, listen to Oliver Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits from Harare, Zimbabwe (which was once called Salisbury so there’s the link) and you will smile.

‘Simply Fresh’ have opened a fab store in Downton owned and run by Mrs Local – Meg Taylor – and they only stock Maple Field.  They love it.  The nearest dairy farm is Nunton Farm.  We step in between and bottle it and there you are ……extremely ‘fresh local milk’ with hardly the sniff of diesel on a food mile.

Then there is Phoenix Stores, Devizes Road, Salisbury, gradually training their customers in the great taste of un-homogenised milk and the crate numbers climbing by the week. I am so grateful to Peter and Pam for taking on this unknown battle for freshness with such enthusiasm.

The crowd grows.  The society of fresh milk drinkers widens.  The community of grass-fed people (indirectly) becomes a congregation and then a natural gathering of humans around an agricultural led movement.

How fantastic that I can be delivering fresh local milk within 10 miles of Maple Field whilst listening to KEXP-SEATTLE  RADIO  broadcasting songs by Oliver Mtukudzi from Harare. What a wonderful world wide era to live through.

We had our annual EHO hygiene inspection this week.  We passed with top marks. Now we move to a position where the milk need only be tested by Public Health England every six months. We have elected to continue to be tested every month for the absolute safety of our customers using our fresh ‘ready-to-eat’ food.

Nunton Farm cows cross the road as they go back to the meadow. The traffic waits and wonders. Now the waiting motorists are mainly drinking the milk of the cows crossing. FAIR TRADE DAIRY will make sure this absolutely lovely site continues for ever. They ramble slowly over towards the quietly flowing River Ebble.  Cows still out in November……go for it Nunton.

Nick Snelgar

Glebe Farm finds some new tenants

Hi again everyone. Following on from our last blog, we want to keep everyone up to date with what is happening here at Glebe farm, the home of West Country Quality meat, and our Pasture fed beef and lamb, as well as outdoor reared rare breed pork.

Last month we found out that a neighbour had recently purchased some unused grazing land, and was making it available for renting very close to us; this ground totalled 43 acres, and has not been managed in any way for 20 years. After viewing the land and talking to our neighbour, we agreed to rent it from her.

This land is situated in the nearby Alfoxton area, two miles from our house. It also comes with some tenants. Some people may say this is a down side, but we feel truly blessed and lucky to have these tenants — a resident herd of red deer, whose ancestors have been roaming the area for hundreds of years, and who were written about by many well-known people.

Alfoxton is set at the lower ground of the Quantocks Hills in West Somerset. It has amazing views across the Bristol Channel and out to the Welsh coast. During World War II American troops and nurses were based here in the manor house of Alfoxton.

The manor is steeped in history, known as Alfoxton House and also Alfoxton Park and was recorded in the Doomsday book. The house was rebuilt in 1710 after it was destroyed by fire. It has been used as a private dwelling, religious centre and a hotel.

Its most famous resident was the poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy in 1797. They leased this large property, then a private house for £23 a year. A frequent visitor to their home was fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who lived in the next village. Together they roamed the stunning Somerset countryside inspiring them to write. It was here that Wordsworth wrote “Lyrical Ballads “and Coleridge wrote “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”.

Dorothy wrote regularly in her journal and one of her entries describes the land as we see it today: how the large mansion stands within a large park with seventy head of deer.

Unfortunately on visiting the area this week the manor house looked to be uninhabited and in a poor state of repair; however there is talk of restoring the house to its magnificent state.

We are delighted that the ancestors of the deer that Dorothy wrote about, remain within our land and that 17 acres of it is dedicated to the herd, with the remaining 26 protected by a newly erected deer proof fence.

As mentioned previously apart from having the deer on this ground and some occasional stray sheep, it hasn’t been managed properly in 20 years. Hence we now have that challenge on our hands. Anyone reading this who has ideas about how to eradicate thistle without spraying herbicides, feel free to contact us and advise us accordingly.

Acquiring this ground will allow us to have more freedom, in terms of the numbers of animals we can rear; it will also allow us to grow and harvest all our own winter fodder, be that silage, haylage or hay, rather than having to purchase this from our neighbours as was our previous plan.

Our first task, which we have just completed, was to have all the ground “topped”. We have also taken soil samples, and sent them for analysis and are awaiting the results. This will give us guidance and let us know what minerals and nutrients are in the ground and what we need to replenish, and will allow us to design a strategy to improve the soil condition by organic means.

Here at Glebe Farm, home of West Country Quality Meat, the quality of grass we grow and the quality of soil in which it grows is so important to us, as it is the only feed type our animals eat throughout their lives, as per the ethos of raising Pasture Fed for life meat, and if our grass is poor, then our animals won’t get the nutrients they need, meaning we have failed them and also failed our customers, by not supplying them with meat from animals, that have had a first class quality of life.

Until next time

Love Sam & Jackie

Maple Field Milk: We Need an Equivalent of CAMRA for Milk!

4th October 2014 As I pushed up through the fog past Vernditch Woods and on up over the Ridge of Chalk at Hut and Lodge, Radio 3 burbled through with Songs of the Auvergne and the particular favourite song of mine called ‘Bailero’ – What a Monday! On down to my first drop at Chalk Valley Stores……time 7 am. Four crates of fresh local milk on their award-winning doorstep. No-one to see. Too early. Then on down the Ebble Valley to Coombe Bissett Shop where cheerful Mary greets me like the friend I have become. We have joined a community of shop keepers, pub landlords and restaurateurs; of theatres and cafes and emboldened doorsteps. With 35 drops to make on the round I probably encounter 70 -100 people. This is repeated three times a week. You get to know all the people. We speak endlessly of ‘freshness’; of the world milk price (why?); of the antics of skinny Eric and podgy Myrtle

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back on Maple Field Farm (both new calves). Caroline gives me a coffee at the Borough Café, Downton. We talk of the new dairy farm at Nunton from which we now draw most of the milk. This is not a new dairy farm – it is new to us. Grass fed, free range, an outdoor herd of British Friesian crossed with Jersey cows making, I imagine, a Frersey ….or a Jesian. I like the Jesian as it sounds biblical and pastoral. We are lucky and excited. For the first time we have a contract. Onto Fordingbridge and the George Inn by the River Avon. I park the van outside the Estate Agents and bribe Rebecca with fresh milk to mind the van against traffic wardens. Semi-skimmed protection money. This is our extensive community. All the talk is of dairy; of progress and of integrated food supplies from no more distance than 12 miles. What better way to spend Monday? More and more news of falling milk prices paid to the dairy farmer. More cracking of knuckles and wringing of hands. The Radio 4 early morning Farming Today might as well just put the 15 minute show on repeat. Nothing will change whilst we allow three vast Dairy companies to process and distribute all our fresh milk. Look at the success of the Campaign for Real Ale started in 1976 (CAMRA). Badly behaved enormous brewery companies had to change their methods as a direct result of demand from the consumers of real ale. Now there are 1000 micro brewers in Britain. Most pubs you visit have ‘guest beers’ on tap. Soon 30 shops around Salisbury and Fordingbridge will have ‘guest’ milk on offer. Three of our shops have gone over to us entirely to supply them. Farmers for Action would be far more feared by the processors if they turned their attention to the quiet mass of people who drink their products every day of the year. A blockade is remembered for a week. It isn’t even noticed by the customers. Nick Snelgar