An introduction to Glebe Farm and Sam and Jackie, producing West Country Quality Meat

Hello everyone as this is our first blog on the site please let me take a moment and introduce ourselves to you. Our names are Sam and Jackie; we are a couple who had a dream to live in the rural and beautiful scenic county of Somerset. We are in the process of fulfilling this dream as we have recently moved to live on Glebe Farm, a smallholding in the small hamlet of Lilstock surrounded by lush green pastures and within a stroll from the fresh sea air of the Bristol Channel. We have dramatic views across the sea to the Welsh coast line and the beautiful Quantock Hills from our windows, as well as having Exmoor national park on our doorstep. We feel we are truly blessed to wake up each morning surrounded by such stunning scenery. Here at Glebe Farm, it is our ambition and aim to nurture and raise traditional rare breed animals, the animals that modern day farming left behind, because they wouldn’t grow fast enough, or large enough, and for that very reason they are perfect for us, as here at Glebe Farm, the home of West Country Quality Meat, the quality and taste of the meat we provide from our animals, is more important to us than the rate of growth, be that our Dexter Cows, our Dorset Down and Devon Closewool sheep, our Oxford Sandy and Black pigs and our various chickens. These are both for our own consumption, and for our friends and family, and hopefully as we grow, for our customers via our web site. I am sure all of you would agree, in this day and age of mass produced, tasteless food, it is the ultimate dream of most to have a fantastically tasting product, on the dinner plate, that you can be assured had a quality of life and taste which totally surpasses anything the supermarkets can sell you. As small holder producers we can tell you everything about the product you have on your plate, where and when it was born, where it lived, how and what it was fed on, and equally important to us how and where it was slaughtered and prepared into the meat on your plate, this we believe is the meaning of true provenance. We are currently working towards, soil association and Pasture fed producer approval as well as Farm assurance via the Red Tractor scheme, our promise not only to ourselves, but to our friends and our customers is that, we manage our land and animals to the highest standards, giving them more space than required to be classed as free range, in all we like to spoil our animals who will be providing quality west country beef and west country lamb to our customers as well as quality free range pork. We will not be feeding the animals from which our Pasture Fed For Life Beef and Lamb comes from, any hormone supplements or growth promoters, and any supplementary feed they receive in winter is also totally natural namely hay, haylage and silage. It was an easy decision for us to make, to rear our animals on a Pasture Fed For Life Diet, i.e. a grass diet for life, as here in Somerset we have some of the best lush green pastures, and what a shame it is to see lots of this ploughed up, and planted in cereals, so as to provide grain for animal feed. In our eyes and in our opinion, this is neither a green carbon friendly nor an ethical approach to farming, but one that mass production dictates. Unfortunately due to our pigs and poultry not being ruminants, we do have to feed them on compound feed, but be rest assured all of it is manufactured from natural organic products, and there is no GM modified soya in the feed we give to them, we would not feed our animals on anything that would harm us if we were to eat it ourselves. We also feed them left over fruit and vegetables from our vegetable garden, again be assured none of this ever enters our kitchen, we always comply with the law. Demand for traditionally pasture fed beef and lamb from known provenance, is growing and the taste of rare breed meat is nothing like that found in the supermarket, and really has to be tried to be believed, with all the meat we supply the key factors are, Taste, Succulence and Tenderness. Scientific studies have shown how pasture fed beef and pasture fed lamb, has higher levels of vitamin E, omega 3 and omega 6 and lower levels of Fat, For more information please see “Better beef and lamb” by Professor Jeff Wood of Bristol University. It certainly is an exciting time here at Glebe Farm, the smallholding home of West Country Quality Meat, where everything is starting to take shape and our dreams are beginning to become a reality. Our new website “West Country Quality Meat” is now “live” and we are so proud of it. The website is going to be our platform and doorway for us to communicate with our customers. Between our news letters on our web site and our blogs here, It is our intention to let everyone know about what is happening down here on the smallholding, and as each week passes and seasons change from one to the other we will be sharing news and pictures of any new animal arrivals, their progress, new products and our meat availability. We also want to interact with our customers via this platform as much as possible, so after reading our articles, any questions that arise from them, please ring or email us and we will be more than happy to answer your query. Until next time, Kind Regards Sam & Jackie.

Maple Field Milk — Grass Grown Lazy

23rd August 2014 It seems to me that the grass has been growing non stop right through last winter and, forcefully, into the spring. Colossal crops of silage were harvested from its exhausted crowns. Now it has slowed to a walk and is doing nothing much. The cows are reaching for low ash boughs for their favourite browse. Chicory provides a lot of their daily diet. The top two paddocks have improved so much thanks to hand sown Cotswold Seed mashed in with winter trampling and incessant rain. What’s been happening inside the ‘processing room’? We outgrew our semi-skimmed mixing tank as demand rapidly increased. A job I dreaded landed on us. We had to take out the medium size tank and install the massive one. I foresaw barked knuckles, hiatus hernias, and long spells on the chiropractor’s couch. Mike came and dismantled his cleverly designed ‘removable panel’ into the dairy room. Manthe and James swiftly and with great accuracy moved the bulky tank into the new position, almost effortlessly and without the hint of a hernia. Mike sealed up the magic panel. Nial arrived to rewire the new tank and to test it. We cleaned the tank and we processed milk the next day – drama free. What a relief. Now we can double out-put. We are already moving from 2000 litres per week to 3000. Demand is steady. Customers are fantastic: loyal and thirsty. I have recruited a person to help me with the pasteurisation and bottling. We are ‘in training’. Kevin is doing the deliveries on a Wednesday. He wants to do more. He would like to become involved with the livestock. This has been a very exciting week. This is evolving. Ragwort is the host plant of the gorgeous cinnabar moth. I left it as long as I could before pulling it. Cattle will not graze it standing. However, if it gets into their hay as a dried herb then watch out. It is lethal. I notice Myrtle looking at the ragwort longingly and then looking away as a misty ancient gene forbade her from trying it. Her teenage lust for danger is blocked. We are talking to another dairy farmer who is interested in selling us his milk. More next week. The Guardian had a story on us (August 20). Thanks to the Farmer’s Guardian for an accurate account of our story so far, written by Tom Levitt. More about getting ‘hooves on the ground’ and about building milking bails for other people. Keep drinking the Maple Field Energy drink! Nick Snelgar

A new Cow Club for Incredible Edible Farm (Todmorden)

Nick Green reports from the farm:

Here in the frozen north we’re making some real progress.

We decided back last autumn that it was time to see if we could reinvent domestic cow keeping in our pastoral landscape.

When we started Incredible Edible back in 2008 the idea was to try to reconnect with our natural environment and food supply. The easiest thing for us gardening orientated townies to do was to grow vegetables — just scaling up what we already knew; easy.

We planted veg round town, outside our police station, apothecaries’ garden, and fruit trees at the health centre etc.

Then incredible farm — a one acre market garden in the valley bottom; accessible, a bit boggy, but three years on were growing and selling salad and fruit trees and teaching school kids and apprentices.

But:

Is that enough?

We always saw this as a staging post to hill top farming: serious stuff, a training research farm on the tops.

With no money and few farming contacts we looked at our pastoral landscape and wondered how we were going to move forward.

Returning from Romania in September last year I struck up a conversation over a farm gate looking at a herd of small cows with the owners Mike and Janet.

Their dogs whizzed around the field of unruffled Dexters and as the girls approached to be stroked, chatting to their owners I realised I had struck gold.

Six months on we have a go ahead from Dorothy to graze on her steeply sloping SW facing 35 acres across the canal from Incredible Farm; a possibility of renting a further 45 acres of summer hay meadow on the Tops close to Mellings Farm where Mike and Janet keep their Dexters; and a free lease on 15 acres of meadow and forest near the youth hostel on the Pennine Way above the historic Lumbuts Mill.

“Cow Mat” who we met while talking about a cow club at our harvest festival, an experienced passionate young organic drayman, is to be our Professor of Cow.

On our field at Incredible Farm a team of Prince’s Trust workers is building a cowshed and planning to work on the boundaries of the 35 acres across the canal while our community service workers dig out some ponds on the overgrown stream.

I’m halter training calves at Mellings Farm every morning in preparation for Todmorden Agricultural Show on the 21st of June. Rufus the bonkers Bullock is getting good.

We have a holding number thanks to the work of Jessica — a local authority project manager by day, and cow club member in real life.

Mike and Janet are to be board members of Incredible Farm, and in addition to the two calves they are donating to our cause we are looking at adding Jerseys or milking Kerrys to start the process of becoming a micro dairy.

We have two new managers at the farm working on funding for ongoing apprenticeships, and income streams to fund supervision for city kids NEATS and just about anyone who wants to do meaningful work producing food.

Bill the plumber — on community service for growing a forest of dope, is converting a trailer donated by a local housing association to a kitchen and we had our first farm shop and open day last Sunday selling Dexter pies with fresh salad. 200 people came.

Jo our newest apprentice is using her chiefing skills to cook up more for this Sunday thinking to combine growing and cooking in a micro business.

Mike and Janet produce quality beef and sell it to friends and the local pub. The demand far exceeds supply. They are not wanting to scale up, but do want to help us help teach skills to our young people, perhaps leading to a grass fed beef enterprise.

So much good stuff keeps happening around it’s clear we’re doing the right thing; that the possibilities are limitless; that we should allow ourselves to dream yet bigger.

I trained as a scientist. I don’t do mystical.

All the same, this is Magical!

Maple Field Milk — been away

27TH April 2014

No I haven’t been away at all but I have been mentally suppressed by the avalanche of work that seems to come along with fresh local milk production and sales. I could never have imagined  how busy it would be. Why didn’t someone tell me? Our customers have mushroomed from the original ‘ring of five’ shops to a ring of 30. We experience an overwhelming clamour for doorstep deliveries. Excuse me…..who said doorstep was dead?

The cows are sludged down with heavy spring rainfall on top of the high water table. When you have an April shower the roads flood again – have you noticed? We are processing and bottling 1880 litres of fresh milk each week. We deliver the 24 hour old delicious milk to our frantic customers on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Our hands smell of hypochlorite cleaning fluid all the time. Bail radio plays Jenny and Johnny ‘Big Wave’ on continuous repeat as noone has time to reset it or choose anything else. We have a TB test next week on top of everything. AHVLA send you a terrifying letter of warning which is like a  summons for all small-holders to get off the merryground immediately or go to jail.

At least the transit van starts first time with its new starter motor.  Our customers are pleased to see us three times a week and that is probably the best bit.  Now we have Heidi and Alison to  put the labels on the bottles and Harley drives the van on Wednesdays ….so life is easier. We are inching away from the fiery birth of the one-man-band business and next week I shall have a hair cut on my first day off since September 2013. I’m going to the famous Fordingbridge hairdressers – ‘Hair way to Heaven’.

One of the dairy farmers Colin and Ruth invited to speak at this year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference – Neil Darwent, is a finalist in the BBC Food and Farming Awards. We must all congratulate them both on their fantastic enthusiasm and promotion of all things farming and I am personally thrilled to be part of it.

After all that I need a lie down!

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk: bullfinches, shops and raging torrents – and we’re on Facebook!

4th February 2014

Well I mean……our road to the A354 was closed completely because the tarmac surface had disintegrated and a wey tanker had ploughed directly into a ditch with the recovery job taking the road surface down to the likeness of a dirt road in Mali.  All the passing Fiat 500s took a packet of punctures and the general clamour to the Hampshire Highways forced a total closure of the road . . Now it is clean of jagged  flints and we can pass about our business in a single line.

I haven’t seen a bullfinch since I was a child. We have four (two pairs) living and eating in a hawthorn by the back polytunnel. They are magnificent. They seem as big as starlings. They adopt a secretive, furtive life in the branches emitting the odd uninspiring ‘cheep’. This week we all wake up to the songs of Fatoumata Diawara  loud and clear on Bail Radio, I might say…at full volume against the howling wind.

I try to look at the pasture trampling in the heavy rain as a good thing and leading to fabulous experiences of ‘re-seeding’  in the spring with handfuls of Cotswold Seed. I notice that the cows have eaten the chicory right down to the ground having left it at first. Now it probably presents medicines from the magic depths of the chalk superstructure bringing up sumptuous minerals from the delicious layered base of  ancient sea creatures.

Our ring of shops and pubs and restaurants, theatres  and doorstep people continue to surprise us with their enthusiasm and devotion. We have become a part of Facebook  and immediately can communicate with all our customers. I think we are very lucky to live in this age. We can plant our message of local family farming right into the fridges of many, many people and we become a discussion topic at the Borough Café, Downton.

I was hauling haylage today with the International Harvester 574 (‘first twist of the key’) and I thought deeply about the resilience of the farming people I know and of the resilience displayed by the people farming the Somerset Levels. Anxiety and trepidation is never far from them.  I worry about my fencer battery ‘on-charge’ at the moment and the livestock free to challenge the un-amped wires whilst the worried farmers in flood zones watch their animals up to their fetlocks in cool water. What could be worse?

Tomorrow I shall drive up to Whitey Top Farm to collect the milk for processing and nothing will protect us from the ferocious wind from the Western Approaches. We shall have an interesting chat about full-on food production: calving dates, new customers for our milk and an interesting idea I have had since Thursday’s collection. Life continues with its stark rhythm in the ready-to-eat food business — all of us feeling definitely part of something great .

www.facebook.com/maplefieldmilk

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk — Where are we now?

4th January 2014

Ex-Dairy farmer turned ‘small holder consultant’  says: “All through my farming career farmers only talk of getting bigger. The  bigger they get the more they produce and become inextricably dependant on wholesale markets. They discover, quickly, the law of diminishing prices. It is probably easier to make a living off 10 acres than 200!”

Well….hello. Could he be right ? I think he probably is. Let’s prove it. This morning the rain was whining down on the bail like watery shrapnel. The reluctant dairy cows woke up to ‘Big Wave’ by Jenny and Johnny  (Omaha, Nebraska). Tempers fray. Back feet slip on the exit ramp. The bovines burrow back into the sweet haylage. I burrow back beside the ‘villager stove’. The isobars are so close together over Maple Field that it looks like a finger print smudge on a police crime record (933 millibars).

On Thursday my friend Jo Palmer (BBC Radio Solent Senior Reporter) turned up at 7am in her really cool BBC radio van with satellite dish on the roof. She leaps out of the van and cheers the forlorn, dismal site right up. She grabs coils of unruly cable, a lap top and a furry mike. She sucks noisily on a hot mug of tea and plugs gleaming equipment into our computer — all the while talking of her milk addiction; briefing me on the forthcoming interview; glancing at pages of notes from the editor; taking a phone call from the studio; twirling the dish to find the satellite ………These people are fantastic. We are dealing with the absolute best. Fresh ‘on air’ with 10 seconds to spare we link through and Jo effortlessly switches our conversation to take in the ‘Breakfast presenter’…….and we are on. All of us raising the profile of the fantastic dairy farmers that bring us fresh milk every single day; have a listen on I Player BBC Radio Solent ‘Breakfast with Alina’ on Jan 2nd at 7.20am. [note from Ruth: no longer available — alas]

We have changed the milk holding tube on the pasteuriser this week. The original had an irritating air bleeder on the top to make sure the tube was always empty of air and therefore full of hot milk (it was a right irritating little bleeder). Now our fab engineer has fabricated a beautiful stainless steel u-shaped piece of pipework that travels away from the machine in a graceful sweep, gradually climbing,  so doing away with the need for a bleed screw. The milk is held at 72 degrees for a couple of seconds longer to give max results of heat treatment. The lab results are perfect. We have learnt so much in four months of trading. We are now confident that the next range of pasteurisers will be built by the engineers, from scratch, brand new and ready to process a lake of fresh milk. Come to us for more details.

The ring of five customers had swollen to a ring of 22 all still within the ten mile range of Maple Field Farm. On a windy Monday just before Christmas a hoary gust blew the back door of the van tight shut with me on the inside. Dark as a cave; three degrees centigrade; no passers by — and an insulated van muffled my shouts. No inside door handle.  Things not looking good. Certainly not ‘festive’. Luckily I had my mobile with me and ….yes…..there was  a weak signal. I phone Lory who finds the number of the Borough Café and they rescue their milkman amidst gales of laughter.

More about working ‘the doorstep’ next time.

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk — now in 18 local shops

21st November 2013

Well……..as predicted a big Sasso blob lay floating beak downwards in the cattle trough today.  Myrtle stood several paces back and looked bovinely sheepish.  Was it the wind or was it a case of ‘four legs good two legs bad’?

I think it is most likely that  a westerly gust played on the fan-trained snowy white feathers.  This acted like the top sail of a four-masted barque and over she went into Davy Jones the water trough.  A tragic end to a spritely, energetic 10 week life.

When I collected the milk on Tuesday, I felt the cold wind coming off the Knoll for the first time.  Hannah was busy cleaning down the milking parlour. Julie was in the side office next to the bulk tank.  She was making notes on calving dates and the progress of the calves in her care.  Peter was outside helping a cow to calve.  The family farm clips together like a perfect puzzle.  There is never a dull moment.

Milk processing is becoming easier.  Each session I think will be a perfect ‘run’. I always manage to jam a tap or flood the separator or bark my knuckles on a hot pipe or……..something. It is never quite perfect.

The ‘ring of Five’ shops has expanded to the ring of 18.  Shops, pubs, cafes all talking about the fab new energy drink. Milk like it used to taste. Milk with a halo of cream. Milk milked by Hannah 24 hours ago.

We really did the right thing in July to make that haylage in 6 acres. The cows absolutely love it.  The big oblong bales seem to yield much more than ‘round bales’. Probably because they are bigger! They spring apart into segments when cut and you can easily transport the segments if you wish.

I stood inside the milking bail last night at dusk, to watch the animals at sunset.  It is very like a bird watching hide.  Chris Packham should have one. I watched the sun exhaust itself over Pentridge Down and Hanham Hill. Starlings did a final flypast swoop.  Pheasants scrambled untidily into the field maples.

I was running the International Harvestor 574 and as I watched the tired old dials winking at me from the dash trying to tell me the amperage and the fuel status and that the hand brake is ‘on’; I thought of the hundreds of American nuts wrenched tight in 1973 on a remote production line in Milwaukee – all wrenched up in the scale of American Fine (AF). Not a suggestion of ‘metric’. Needless to say I am asking for an AF spanner set for Christmas. I also thought how much I like the smell of diesel.

Keep it fresh and local.

Nick Snelgar

Want to help Nick expand his dairy — and in return learn how to milk, get regular supplies of milk/cheese?  Then visit the Buzzbnk crowdfunding website

Maple Field Milk – Search for Ayrshires

3rd November 2013

The White family, third generation dairy farmers at Whitey Top Farm, Pentridge  listen to the forecast. Not around the cat’s whisker of their forefathers but with bleeping ‘Apps’ and direct links via the internet to the Shipping Forecast  – they are prepared and up-to-date. They know what’s coming. You can practically see the Western Approaches from their hillside farm. Barn doors are bolted. Big bales of straw are lugged to protect exposed walls. Hatches are battened down not with any sense of panic but of deep resilience and forlorn expectation. These are the conditions under which our food is raised and we should be particularly pleased that the people who do it are ready for action and are ready to cope with anything that is thrown at them.

The storm rushed through at midnight. It took off two roof vents and two alloy roofing sheets. It up-rooted several trees and that was it. Oh…….the phone line was squashed by a tree and took three days to repair. Other than that routines were resumed; the cows continued their ruminant magic tricks.

On Thursday we experienced an Environmental Health full-on inspection for them to see our procedures and to watch the whole pasteurising process from beginning to end. We passed completely. We were given full approval under EU Regulation 853/2004. We moved in one day from being on probation to being fully approved: full tilt dairy processors able to sell our products anywhere in the European Union. That’s a big help since we try to operate within a 10 mile radius of Martin! But it’s good to be able to ‘export’ outside Martin Village.

Now we are looking for Ayreshire cows. Our local herd at Fovant (Wiltshire) has still got a TB reactor within it and no movements are allowed. Another herd I contacted in Gloucestershire have got TB restrictions.  I spoke to Nicki of Pilgrim Vets in Fordingbridge, whilst I sold her a litre of farm-fresh milk (to substitute for her ‘Watery Juice’ which I caught sight of in her fridge – Watery Juice…….I ask you?). Anyway,  I asked her about finding TB- free Ayreshires. She said that anywhere east of Salisbury was a good bet. Anyone east of Salisbury please get in touch. We are really keen.

The wild flock of Sasso meat birds are loving the tree hedges that surround Maple Field on all sides. It’s like being at the forest edge. Hawk-free and sheltered. Home to many an invertebrate. Not bad if you are a Sasso. Several have developed some odd ‘learnt behaviour’. I say ‘learnt’ because it started with one and now there are several who jump up onto the rim of the cattle trough and dip their beaks into the water. Most precarious if Myrtle is anywhere near. She is solidly behind ‘four legs good; two legs bad’. Let’s put it this way……..if a Sasso white blob got into difficulty in the deep end, Myrtle would not help it.

We are going to start supplying the Borough Café, Downton (Wiltshire) next week which excites us no end as they are a talkative bunch at the heart of a big community.

Look out for an Ayreshire dairy cow for us and ‘keep it fresh and local.

Nick Snelgar

Maple Field Milk: makes the best lattes

13th October 2013

This is to do with resting after a Sunday processing run. Milk collected from Hannah at 8.30 am. Coolness of the morning appreciated and talked about. Both of us busy. Things to remember and get right. Feeding the people with fresh ‘ready to eat’ food is serious. Her cow with the pinched spine after calving is up and walking again thanks to her quick and immediate intervention. People sleep in Pentridge as we rush past with the bowser of fresh milk at 3.6 degrees centigrade bent on getting to the plant without a drop in temperature.

Pumps on. Pasteuriser up to temperature. Whirr and rush of machinery. Cooling tanks cooling………..Bail radio hitched to K.T.Tunstall new discovery totally devoted,  wonderful ……..white coats on, hair nets…….. We’re off.

Three hours later all that milk is pasteurised, bottled and ready for market, lying safely in the cool room at a steady 3 degrees.

Just before 7 am this morning that milk was still in the cow.  Three hours before that it was in the standing grass waiting for the dreadful rasp of Hannah’s cows reaching for their breakfast.  That’s how fresh all this is. Does it matter?  I certainly think so. Many nutritionists world wide think so. (K.T.Tunstall – ‘Invisible Empire’ – just listen! It’s on Bail FM now.)

Now the product is in the chill room and we can eat cheese and freshly made chiabata  and horseradish sauce from nearby. Chutney is providing the background fragrance in the cabin. Ribston Pippins and onions and green tomatoes swim about in a bath of righteous vinegar and brown sugar. Pete arrives with the ash logs, long promised and summer seasoned; their cut ends glowing pink with resin, with the chatter of the violent chain saw riven across their palms.  Autumn has arrived in a rush and a wheeze and a downpour.

The Thursday processing run brought a new life experience with it.  I was sterilizing the plant after bottling when I undid the ‘bleed’ valve at the top of the milk tube to make sure there was no air in the pipe.  It failed to fizz and germinate with air –like tributes so I undid it further.  It came off. It blew ceiling-wards at the velocity of a Crimean war bullet and fell into the balance tank of water at 82 degrees centigrade.  The pumps do not stop for anyone.  The plant must not cool down at all at this critical point. I plunge my right hand into the hot water and feel about till I find the bleed screw. I retrieve it and fix it back on to the ferocious fountain. I plunge my right hand into cold water and hope to save it from lobster paralysis.  Now I know first hand what these lobsters go through in smart restaurants.  Don’t do it again. Don’t overstretch the bleed screw. And I probably won’t.

We have lively Sasso white blobs of wild chicken running frantically around the grassland causing amusement to Myrtle who wants to tread on them in some gloomy ruminant back-thought from her wild prairie existence. The Sassos  give movement and meaning to the pasture. We have really got the housing arrangements sorted. I shall write a list of Sasso do’s and don’ts. Every one should have a flock of Sasso chickens for the table. I can show you.

I am having a fascinating time delivering fresh local milk. Everyone I meet loves it.  I run up two flights of stairs to the chiller in the George Inn, Fordingbridge, with a 20 kilo crate of milk in each hand. (Muscles like Popeye.) The new owner of the George Inn used to be a senior manager with Costa Coffee up London. She took me to one side and told me that she had never been offered such a fabulous milk product……….so fresh and dense. It makes the perfect coffee. There you go.

Keep it fresh and local.

Nick Snelgar