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.

 

 

Open Farm Sunday Competition Winners!

Here are all the competition winners from Open farm Sunday “Colour and Name the Calf” and the “Wellie Throwing”.

We have chosen eight drawings and names for the eight heifer calves that are now in the barn.

SEBBY by Sebastian Barrow

 

DAISIE by Lily Adams

     

PATCHES by Luda (Lucia?) Giraldo

    

MARBLE by Indigo Lambourne

    

LUCA by Maelle

     

TOFFY by Fleur Jamieson

 

BELLA by Bella Coote

    

…and finally, the magnificently named CALF VADER!  by Jax Lambourne.  The Force is with this one!

  

Thank you to everyone who did a drawing.  We will use some of the other names as more calves are born through the summer and keep you posted.

If anyone wants to keep their drawing, they can collect it from the Farm.

THE WELLIE THROWING WINNERS were

Bonnie Heather (child entry) at 66.3 feet

Calvin Purcell at a prodigious 119.5 feet

Well wanged !!

We will be in touch with all of the winners next week.

Isn’t it beautiful ?!

Spring is here and the cows are back out in the fields.  It is always my favourite day of the year when the cows go out, seeing their joy in being back on the grass.  This morning my Dad Nick said to John “Isn’t it beautiful?”.  John inquired as to whether he meant the weather.  He just gesticulated with his arms – everything.  Indeed, there are new ducklings on the pond, clear Spring days, the grass verdant and the trees bursting out.  

     

There’s been a lot happening too.  The BBC Essex Radio Quest team came to the Farm last Sunday (2nd April).  The Farm was the location for the start of the programme at 9am.  It was great to be part of the show and we talked about what we are doing at the Farm before the Team tried our products.  Not everything went smoothly though – we had the cunning idea of videoing them filling a bottle of milk for their Facebook site, only to have the vending machine not stop and shower Liana with milk!  I know Cleopatra liked to bathe in milk but it wasn’t quite what we intended and certainly not the promotion we had thought it would be.  After a stressful panic, recalibration and the standard IT fix of turn it off and turn it on again we gave it another go, only for the same result.  Just before going live to air.

    

As soon as they left we went to look at the machine and opened it up to realise that we had forgotten to plug in the meter that measures the milk.  And as anyone will tell you, if you don’t plug it in you can’t expect it to work properly!  Anyway, we compensated their milky hand with cheese and cream scones so no harm done and the machine is all working again.

Things have moved on quickly recently.  We are now getting into the swing of pasteurising the milk every other evening.  That way we get the milk into our vending machine the evening that the cows have been freshly milked.  We are also bottling the milk and potting up cream after every pasteurising, ready for deliveries to shops the next morning.  We are now supplying four shops. We started with Purleigh Stores in the middle of March and then Jon Gold Farm Shop at Lubards Farm near Hullbridge.  We are now also supplying Burstead Farm Shop at Little Burstead, south of Billericay and Stockbrook Farm Shop on the north side of Billericay near Stock.  This is a new phase for us and is keeping us very busy.

We have been doing tastings each weekend at the Farm, but did our first one elsewhere yesterday as part of a cheese and wine tasting at the Purleigh Stores.  We had lots of interest and are setting up a pre-order service so that people can order what they want and pick up at the store.  We will be doing a tasting at the Burstead Farm Shop this Saturday.  

Tasting at Purleigh Stores

Opening up

Well it has been a fascinating first full week of opening our shop. It was wonderful to be able to get feedback from everyone who has visited over the last two weekends when we have had cheese samples available for everyone to try.  A huge thank you to all the customers who have been in, it has been lovely talking to you all.

It been a busy week too, we had some extra advice from our cheese microbiologist a fortnight ago so we have been trying out those ideas on the cheese making too.  Leaving the soft cheese to mature a little longer before salting to increase the intensity and adjusting the pepperiness of the Chalvedon hard cheese.

Nick, Billy and Dennis and machine

Do you think it will go in?

But the big project for the week was vending machine number two.  It arrived on Monday a week later than we had hoped.  Whilst it did fit in the space we had made for it, it blocked the power sockets so we have had to have those moved before we could get it in the shop, creating yet another job for my Dad, Nick, to do.

After it bending the pallet it had been sitting on we called for reinforcements to help us move it.  Billy and Dennis Keeling came to the rescue and gave us a hand.  We fork lifted it as close to the shop as we could and carried it through from there.  Which we couldn’t have managed without their help.

Finally in place

A quick coffee

Finally in situ we came to the task of interpreting two massive books of instructions to fathom out its operation.  John persevered with the daunting task and is now master of the vending machines, except its little quirk of hating 10p’s and refusing to give them in change. 

So it has been in use over the weekend for cheese, cream, skimmed and semi-skimmed milk making it much easier to set up the shop and samples this time giving us time for a quick break first thing before we got started. 

On the farm it has been a very stressful fortnight.  My Dad and Sister were summoned to a meeting with Muller, who currently take the bulk of our milk.  The meeting was to give us and about 18 other farmers notice on our contracts as they are cutting all milk collections from East Anglia.  We were half expecting the news as they announced the closure of Chadwell Heath Dairy a few months ago and that is where our milk they collect goes.  The rest of the Chadwell milk will be going to the west country for processing.  Fortunately Arla are looking for a small number of milk suppliers at the moment and have given a once only offer to farms affected, a bit of a turnaround as they gave notice to one of our neighbours only a year ago.  A couple of the other farms have told us enough is enough and they are going to give up so we could be down to 5 dairy farms in Essex before long. 

So a worrying time, without a new contract we would have to have given up too, our new milk shop helps the situation but not enough yet to have survived without a main dairy collecting.  But we have gone with the Arla offer so that should give us some stability for now. We also think with the closure of Chadwell heath that we will be not just the only on farm cheese dairy in Essex but the only milk processing dairy in Essex too. 

Now that the rain has gone

A few more bits to do next week, we will be updating the website with information about all the products and hopefully getting our banners up on the granary and roadside if it is not too windy now storm Doris and Eric have both passed us by.

Thank you for all the positive Facebook reviews and comment and we hope to see some of you again soon and some new customers too.

Milk for sale

Well we had a little mini opening this weekend and sold our first milk.  We thought we would try things out quietly so my Dad and John put up our subtle dairy signs on Sunday morning along with the lovely new blackboards which John made for the shop.  We pasteurised some milk on Saturday evening and put a small amount in the vending machine for Sunday morning.  A few people saw the signs and came in to see us which was just perfect to test it all out. 

Nick hanging the sign

Hanging sign at Farm entrance

Sign

It is only the whole milk that is for sale until the other vending machine arrives but we salted a new batch of soft cheese to be ready for that yesterday and made basil soft cheese and mint soft cheese which are ready now too.

Will be running the next batch of milk through the pasteuriser on Monday evening ready for sale on Tuesday morning.  We will be pasteurising in the evening every other day from now on, using the milk from that morning and afternoons milkings so it is as fresh as it can be when we process it.  The tanker from the dairy that takes the rest of the milk comes every other day so our milk will be on sale nearly a day before the rest of it leaves us for processing.

We are really pleased with how the vending machine is working so far, and hopefully the cheese and cream vending machine will be here soon too.

Milk blackboards in the shop