Autumn Awards

It’s been a really busy late summer at the Farm.  Since Open Farm Sunday and the Orsett Show, we have done the local “Party in the Park” and event at Mill Meadow, Billericay.  We have made quite a few new products, all of this culminating with our customers nominating us for the Essex Life Food and Drink Awards 2018.   We were very honoured to attend the Awards on the 27th September and absolutely delighted to win the Best Newcomer category. We were pleased, but very surprised, to be one of the three finalists for Best Essex Producer in only our second year. It was a bit strange to see video footage of ourselves on screen during the presentations, but it was a lovely evening attended by quite a few of the farm shops and restaurants that we deliver to. If you will spare us the indulgence, we’ve added quite a few photos of the evening and afterwards.

A rarity to be out in our posh frocks, rather than wearing hairnets.  From the left below – Clare, Carol and Lynnette.

The view from our table.  Scarily large screen.

 

With our awards and banners outside the dairy shop – Lynnette, John, and Clare with William and Chelsea who do the proper work looking after the cows.

We are also delighted to have been awarded a Great Taste star for our Bradfields Farm Extra Thick Cream in this year’s competition. Receiving a one-star rating means judges dubbed our cream a food that delivers fantastic flavour, simply delicious. The cream is always on sale at the Farm and has also been on the menu for delicious cream teas at The Barn Restaurant at RHS Garden Hyde Hall.

For some time we have been trialling and testing Crème Fraiche, made from our thick cream. We have now settled on a recipe and have small pots for sale. These are 142ml, the same size as the extra thick cream.

We now have the new printed bottles for our probiotic drinking yogurts and milkshakes.  We are looking into options to get these products on sale regularly in our Dairy Shop.

We will probably need a new vending machine for this so do bear with us.  Meanwhile the Crème Fraiche, probiotic drinking yogurts and milkshakes are available by pre-order so do let us know if there’s anything that you would like.

The Farm is now a collection point for Sarah Green’s Organics Vegetable Box Scheme. This is a weekly delivery of a wide selection of seasonal organic vegetables grown on their Farm in Tillingham.  Sarah delivered their lovely collection shed last week, it has now been forklifted into position and is now being used to store the vegetable boxes, ready for collection. You can pre order online at the Sarah Green’s Organics website, so why not check out what they have and register with them. Simply order your veg or veg box via their website and it will be delivered to the collection shed on Friday for collection for you to collect whenever suits you. The boxes can be collected during dairy shop open hours 8am to 6pm.

Meanwhile, out in the fields, the occasional downpour and the lovely recent sunshine has meant that there is some nice fresh grass growing for our girls to eat.

Duck Explosion at the Farm!

You may have noticed that we have had a lot of ducks at the Farm now.  A duck population explosion has happened as Mrs Mallard has had lots of chicks and other mallards have flown in and had chicks of their own.   The young chicks soon grow into juvenile adult size birds and we suddenly have a pond full.  They do like it here and the constant supply of grain from the nearby hopper certainly helps.

The duckhouse is duck central

and there are quite a few baby moorhens around at the moment.

The white ducks aren’t always white, particularly when they’ve been off foraging

… but they always wash up pretty well.

 

Green Shoots?

Back in early April in our blog “Can we go out soon?” we talked about the very wet weather, with water bubbling up out of the road drains and the girls not being able to go out into the fields because of all the soggy Essex clay. We posted a photo of the mud bound track out to the fields. The photograph on the right shows what it looked like on July 27th, the so called “Furnace Friday”.

    

It’s been the same everywhere.

    

You will notice that there is quite a difference in the grass in the fields. Effectively, there is very little. Farmer Nick has been telling people that the cows are on ‘coconut matting’ and just nibbling at whatever they can find.  As I write this we have had some storms and some some sustained rainfall. Even with this we, like all other dairy farmers whose cows rely on outdoor grazing, can expect further tough times ahead.

    

The cows would normally be enjoying a large proportion of fresh grass at this time of the year. Grass would still be growing and the cows would be enjoying large amounts of it as a big proportion of their diet during the summer months. Also, we would expect the make a second cut of grass sileage during the summer. Not only in this unlikely to happen, with the result that there will be less to feed to cows during the winter months, but also we are now having to use the sileage that we cut in the spring. The cows are eating 90% of the ration that they would eat in the winter (mainly sileage) a day at the moment.

    

The clouds have been gathering and we are hoping for further sustained rainfall, ideally after we have got the straw off the fields.

Moving into Summer

It’s been a very busy few months on the farm and in the dairy. The cows finally went out to graze towards the end of April and we have all been flat out catching up on all the work delayed by the wet spring. Now it is one extreme to another and the dry weather has seen us finish the first cut of silage and make a bit of hay, which we don’t often do.

In the Dairy we have launched our glass bottles and in May we ventured out to our first weekly London Farmers market in Blackheath. It has been exciting times, we are taking over from a lovely lady called Lesley who has been running her stall for 16 years and is now retiring. She has been very very helpful to us and shared some of her recipes for probiotic and pouring yogurts and there will be more new recipes for us to try out over the next few months.

We had a visit from our cheese consultant too, and are now experimenting with a Caerphilly recipe and a Gouda and will be trying some new variations on our soft cheese too. We have a cheese vat on the way from Lesley’s farm dairy at Redlays and that will mean we can play with some other types of cheese that need a bit more heat to make.

June saw us open the farm as part of the national Open Farm Sunday on 10th June. We held our very first farmers market with lots of local Essex produce including Sarah Green’s Organics and Lathcoats Farm alongside our own products and many more local stalls. Several hundred people came along and enjoyed the market and displays. Visitors also booked free places to meet the calves and see the cows being milked in the parlour. These proved very popular are were completely booked out well before the event.  The event was a great success and everyone seemed to enjoy the day.

You may have tried our new thick natural yogurt and flavoured yogurts. These have been on sale in our shop for a few weeks now. There is a choice of strawberry, black cherry, red cherry, blueberry, apple and lemon curd, but we will try other flavours in future so watch this space. We also making new probiotic yogurt drinks from Lesley’s recipe and more of the milkshakes that were on sale on the open day. We are waiting to get our printed bottles and will find some space for them and have them on sale in the shop soon.

    

On the pond Mr Duck has a couple of new lady friends. He’s quite a busy chap and he needed more company to keep him occupied. They can be spotted all round the farm, usually part covered in mud where they have been exploring. Mrs mallard has had a small batch of babies who are getting quite big now and we have already had two batches of moorhen babies too. They have no road sense and are making my Dad very cross by sitting in the middle of the brewers grains when he is trying to take it feed the cows.

Can we go out soon?

We are now properly into year two of our dairy. On Sunday 18th February our dairy and shop were one year old. We celebrated our birthday with a small event with cheese and yogurt tasting. We had lots of names suggested for some of our calves and heifers and had entrants for our prize draw.  The winners have been drawn and notified about their prizes.

    

You will have noticed that it has been very wet recently!  Water has bubbling up out of the road drains rather than going down into them. Our poor girls are still under cover in their winter barn and must be wondering when they will be going out into the fields.  They are normally out before the end of March, but the Essex clay is too soggy for them at the moment.  They are well looked after and warm on their straw bed but, despite carting tonnes last year, we have run out of straw and are having to buy in more to keep them comfy. This isn’t helped by the fact that a lot of farmers are in the same position of still having livestock indoors and this has created a shortage of straw and high prices. We are due some better weather and when they do go out they will be joyous and we will take some photos and a video clip or two to show you.

Farmer Nick and Sarah are frustrated by the weather as it prevents proper field work being done.  We should be getting ready for cutting silage now, but the dung from the yards has to be carted first and it is far to wet for that at the moment.  On the upside, with all this water in the ground, a bit of sun should see the crops shoot up quickly.

This week we held our first guided tour and cheese tasting group.  Booked some months ago we thought we would be able to host in the cow shed but, with the girls still in, we had to create a new venue or cancel.  So we have been working on the old granary barn that is between the driveways at the farm entrance. It has been cleared out and given a good clean inside.  We hadn’t planned to use this, but it is a lovely timber framed building that dates back about 500 years, so well worth utilising it and having people see it.

The lovely group from U3A (University of the Third Age) in Leigh-on-Sea visited on Tuesday. We hosted the group in the freshly cleared out granary barn where we held a talk and (after a look at the cows and round the dairy) some cheese tastings.  The group enjoyed their visit and we would like to do more of this.  As a working farm there is a limit to how many people can visit us and how much time we can devote, but we will hosting more groups who are visiting the Farm.

   

In the dairy we now have put a small first batch of strained natural yogurt on sale. We really appreciated the feedback of our yogurt tasters who helped us decide which type of yogurt to go for.  We hope that you like it.  There is fruit yogurt on the way too.  We are starting with strawberry, red cherry and lemon curd, but we have had some other suggestions too – some making use of native fruit species such as bramble, so there may be more on the way.  We will see how you like them!

Yogurt will be launched properly on the May bank holiday weekend, hopefully along with our newly printed glass bottles.  More on that soon…

 

Happy New Year and it’s Almost a Year

We would like to wish a Happy New Year to all our customers and also to thank you for your custom throughout the year.

It is getting on for a year now since we opened our little shop in February 2017.  The shop has seen a few changes in that time.  Over this, our first Christmas holiday it has looked nice and festive in its’ blue Christmas lights and John put lights on the wire calf that he has been working on.

There were some sociable and busy days in the run up to Christmas as many of our customers collected their milk, cream and cheese for the holiday.  On Christmas Eve we had Leighton, who has recently set up My Choc O’Leight, selling his hand crafted chocolates as well as David from David’s Kitchen with his chutneys and chili sauces.  Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves – particularly Lynnette in her slightly modified cow costume and there was quite a buzz about the place.

Another bit of fun was Chelsea posing with her favourite calf, Bertha, who had sprouted a pair of antlers just for Christmas.

So thank you once again for supporting us.  We hope that you have a Good New Year and look forward to seeing you in 2018.

 

Making preparations for Christmas

We’d like to say Christmas on the Farm is a day like any other but often we are hit with some extra hassle, like the tractor breaking down, just to make life that little bit more challenging.  Hopefully it will all run smoothly this year if all our preparations go well.  The cows need to be milked twice a day every day of the year, so there is no day off on Christmas day.  Just all hands on deck to try and finish a little early so we can have family Christmas dinner in the evening once milking is done and the cows are tucked up for the night.

This is the first Christmas for the dairy and we have been open for 9 months now.  We haven’t been quite sure what to expect but we have decided to keep the vending machine open over the festive period so if you do run out of milk you can pop in.  We won’t be pasteurising fresh milk on Christmas Day or New Years Eve, but there will still be plenty of shelf life left on the milk available.

We have had a few requested for cheese gifts so we have prepared a few options for these and invited David’s Kitchen, who makes our chutneys, to join us over the last couple of days before the big day.

On the Farm we have been coping with the unexpected snow over the last week.  Fortunately no frozen pipes in the milking parlour and the girls are glad to be inside.  The ducks are still swimming on the pond and they aren’t our only animals camouflaged for once.  Our psycho spotty boy also loves the snow.

     

The weather has made us realise that a lot of the shops we deliver to are up hills.  Mooberry, our van copied surprisingly well with these but she couldn’t get through broken down cars blocking the roads on Sunday morning, despite trying four routes north from the Farm.  We did manage to get all our milk deliveries out to the shops, all be it a little later in the day than normal.

This week we are finishing off our preparations.  Final batches of cheese are being made and the Old Barn Smokery is smoking some cheese for us and for them.  We are planning to get the shop a little more in the Christmas spirit with some lights.  Originally that was Sunday’s job, but none of us fancied going up the ladder in the snow.  Just a few days left to order cream and cheese if you want any for Christmas.  They will only be a small number of pots made unordered so if you do want some we strongly recommend letting us know by Sunday 17th.

    

 

 

A story with a corny ending

Farming is never a 9 to 5 job and harvest time makes late summer particularly busy.  After the wheat, barley and straw carting the last crop to come in  is the autumn maize.  Every year, we grow two large fields of maize on the Farm.  The maize grows quickly, reaching a height of over 2 metres by the end of September with lots of nice plump cobs.  But rather then harvesting the cobs for folks to eat, it is all chopped up for silage so the girls can have their greens throughout the winter when it is too wet for them to be out grazing.

  

The maize needs a specialist self-propelled forage harvester to cut it so the Sell’s bring theirs over and do the silaging for us, after that the cut stems are all that is left.

The loads of maize are stored in a large clamp which has concrete sides.  The maize is squashed down and rolled with a loader as each load of maize is unloaded.  This year we had a great harvest – over 700 tons!

To give it an airtight seal a plastic sheet that is weighed down with used tyres are to be used as weight on plastic. All of this takes several people a couple of days and often means a late finish.

 

Here’s the same field after harvest.  Soon to be ploughed and it all starts again.

Most of the silage is fed to the cows during the winter months when fresh grass is not available.  The girls enjoy some nice moo-ments eating their grub twice a day after milking.

 

Out and About

It has been such a busy summer at the Dairy. As well as experimenting with a new more crumbly version of our hard cheese, which we have been maturing over the last few months, we have been spreading out a little further into Essex.

   

In July we have started supplying White Elms Farm Shop at Bicknacre. Our Baby Bure’s soft cheese has joined the summer menu at the Purleigh Bell pub and we are now supplying them with our fresh milk too. And Clayhill Vineyard has joined us too, using our milk in the café and the extra thick cream for their cream scones.

Back at Open Farm Sunday in June we met David’s Kitchen a local chutney and chilli maker. In July we caught up with David and since then he and Carol have been busy picking apricots, pears, plums and greengages from the Farm’s garden orchard to make a range of chutneys and jams specially for us. David joined us for our first Cheese and Chutney Weekend in August and we had a little mini open weekend where everyone could meet some of our calves as well as see the cows.

Lots of activity at the Farm for “Cheese and Chutney” weekend

We have been out from the farm much more this month, running cheese tastings at Bicknacre and last weekend we managed to spread ourselves around three events.  We joined the agriculture tent at Orsett show, with a display on the cows and calves, cheese tastings and taking more of the milkshakes which were so popular at Open Farm Sunday. It was a fantastic day for us at the show. We were busy all day talking to people and giving out plenty of cheese samples.  Then we split our resources to take part in the Bowers Gifford Picnic in the Park. It was lovely to do an event so close to the Farm and it was a great afternoon there. Lynette and Carole manned the Picnic.  John went over to Thames Chase Community Forest at Broadfields Farm near Upminster to join in Harvest Home, their celebration of farming, another great event and a brand new audience for the Dairy.  I ran between the two to set up while keeping an eye on our own dairy shop. Overall the busiest weekend we have ever had.

July and August have been just as busy on the Farm too. The usual cow work joined by second cut silage, harvest and carting hundreds of bales of straw from other farms in south Essex so we have enough winter bedding for the girls. Now we are cracking on with autumn cultivations, spreading all the dung from the winter barns on to the fields ready to be ploughed in. We are not organic but we do try to use as much of our own natural fertiliser as we can on the fields.

All the animals are readying for autumn, the squirrels are in the garden constantly stocking up and Mrs Mallard’s babys are nearly full grown and have lost all their fluff. Our very naughty white ducks, who joined us in June, from a school via Nicky, have taken over the farm completely, popping up all over the place, constantly talking to each other and chasing others away from their favourite spots. They waddled down the cows feed strip last night and have even been seen in the milking parlour.

We have more planned for September and lots of cheese making this month to get cheese matured in time for Christmas, which will be with us before we know it.

Summer Swarming

June has been quite a month for us. Opening the farm gates for visitors for the first time for Open Farm Sunday was quite an undertaking. We couldn’t have managed it without all our friends volunteering to help us out. Thank you so much to you all.

More cheese? – Tony, Scott and Emma with Clare

Carolyn feeding strawberries and cream to the masses!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carolyn, Sarah, Michael and Asher for being amazing caterers, the scones were brilliant.
Tony, Fi, Scott and Emma for manning the cheese tasting and shop, you did a wonderful job.
Tara for tracking and measuring all those wellies (we did track down the one that went over the hedge), Wayne for manning the car park, Chris for helping out with the machinery, cows and calves,
Chelsea and James for looking after the calves.  Joy, Julie and Pauline for organising the fantastic calf colouring and Lynette, Lauren and Nicky for being our excellent tour guides.

Watch that wellie Tara!

It’s busy in the car park, Wayne

Joy and Julie with some budding artists

That’s a nice calf in there

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also Peter Sloper for joining us with his lovely vintage milk van, John and Robert Lyon for the loan of your tractor and portaloo, Alex Sell for bringing the forage harvester and helping out on the day.  And a big thank you to everyone who came along to see the farm too. We hope you had a good time and enjoyed meeting the cows and calves and finding out what happens on the farm.

Pinta anyone?

Out on Tour

Bees on the move

Swarming in the willow tree

People weren’t the only things swarming over the farm this month, our resident wild bees decided to join in the fun and swarmed. First they decided our white van was the place to be before finding a better spot in the willow tree while they scouted for a new home.

With so many stories about bees dying out it is lovely to see ours en mass and hopefully making a second colony somewhere nearby.

And the bees weren’t the only wildlife on the farm either as we were joined this week by a rather lovely goose who stayed this week and set off again last night.