Grit Blogs > Maple Field Milk

A Bit of Revision

Nick Snelgar head shotI thought I would go back over the principles of the ‘Microdairy’ just to be sure.

I suppose it steals its name from the very successful Microbrewing movement borne out of the work of CAMRA and its resistance to the monolith brewing companies and their remote, industrial ‘brews’.

The Dairy business is quite similar in that  4 vast companies do all the processing of fresh milk.

Maple Field Milk intends, like many before us, and alongside us, to produce a self-employed living from fresh milk production from 15 to 20 cows. The milk will be pasteurized and bottled in our new dairy room and sold direct to families within a 10-mile radius of the farm. The milk will not be organic or homogenised. The cows will graze on grass grown without chemical fertilizers. The milk will be delivered twice a week and will be a maximum of 3 days old.

The new homemade two-birth milking bail arrived from the makers last week. CC Fabrication from our own Parish have built it to the scale drawings produced by me. CC Fab, for short, are indeed ‘fab’ and have interpreted the blueprint perfectly, finishing the vehicle off in a beautiful green, which we shall call Maple Field green from now on. I towed the bail here with a friend in a 4-wheel-drive truck, and it rolled behind us like a Winebago motor home. The pitch black roof looks like a moth with folded wings.

Dairy engineer Geoffrey will fix up the vacuum lines and make it fit for a cow’s teat.

The ‘test’ cows watch the contraption with mild interest and a little dread.

We are finishing off the small corral/shelter where we shall keep the calves overnight to try and effect the milk share between us and them. It may not work, in which case we’ll give in and separate the calves from their mothers. Next week I shall get Sue Cole’s advice on this manoeuvre.

As it gets nearer to the ‘test milking,’ I am impressed by the help and advice I receive from eager agricultural men quite prepared to adapt and modify dark looking agricultural spares found in the bottom of tea chests full of  ‘things that might come in useful,’ not to mention the language of ball peen hammers and American Fine spanner sets. The power-take-off driven air pump I inherited from my late friend Bill Parker has a spline fitting only to be found on ‘little grey Fergy’ tractors. We have to somehow adapt this. They say that farmers were driven off the land and into the factories of the Industrial Revolution taking their ingenuity and their box of spanners with them. Perhaps we can get them to return.

I am keen to meet and talk to as many small-scale craft dairymen and women as I can, not least because it brings me comfort on a rainswept December morning with next to no daylight  - comfort to think of them with their heads pressed against the rainsoaked flank of an English dairy cow.

I spoke to Matt Dale in North Aston, Oxfordshire, yesterday. He and his business partner, Josh, have a herd of 18 Ayrshire cows, and 10 are in-milk at this moment.Their enterprise is 4 to 5 years old now, and Matt has been a great help to me.

Over the county boundary in Wiltshire we have Tim Wilcox of Wilcox Milk, Mere, Wilts. With 300 customers taking pasteurized milk from his electric milk float, he has created an extra job place for one and a more secure future for the family farm. Tim took an engineering degree but has returned to the family dairy farm .He has set up a Dairy processing room in a ship’s container. He and his father milk 75 cows and process a certain amount whilst sending the remainder to the wholesale market.

My mentor Ian Crouch at Chettle, Dorset has gained a ‘Raw Milk Licence,’ and you can buy fresh, raw (unpasteurized) milk at Bowerchalke Saturday Market.

I’m going on a bit now ...

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Put Your Heart In Your Mouth by Natasha Campbell-McBride.

If you have ever wondered why fresh milk, particularly ‘whole milk’ with the cream still in, has become such a dangerous drink, then you must read this.

NOTES ON THE SIDE 

I can’t believe the sprouts and leeks coming from Futurefarms (our village Community owned farm) (www.futurefarms.co.uk). The potato crop was the best since we began in 2004, with even difficult-performing Pink Fir Apple coming in at a good size. Our soil in the valley is not deep fen peat – its not Lincolnshire. It is quite shallow, quite stony stuff over solid chalk. It must be the fantastic veg growing crew.

My friends and particularly brilliant small-scale milkers – milkers of Goats by the way – who have a goat’s cheese business in Lymington, Hampshire, with a degree of hygiene in their process that is used by the local EHO as an ‘example’ to the rest of us. What I think is absolutely fascinating is that Clare is a top flight ‘Marine Pilot.’ She can meet a super-tanker out in the western approaches and bring it tidily into a  berth at Fawley Refinery, nosing it through the busiest shipping lane in the world. I imagine her on the bridge of the mighty tanker ‘bringing her in,’ and the goats on the farm listening out for the mournful note of the super-hooter as the super-milkmaid makes her way up the solent.

(www.newforestgoatdairy.co.uk)