Milk and Maize

As September comes to a close everything is finally starting to come together.  The milk tanks are now installed in the new dairy room and fully working, and the milk vessel and pumping system is all up and running to get milk across from the main tank.  Just waiting on the pasteuriser, cream separator and bottle filler to slot into the gaps.  So avoiding any disasters the micro dairy should be up and running at the end of October.  And milk and cream on sale once we have food safety sign off in November. 

Milk transfer tank

Milk transfer tank

We can start making Cheese from the pasteurised milk from then and fingers crossed should have some batches matured for Christmas.  We have been trialling some changes to the cheese makes and have a new style on the way which we are very pleased with so far.

This month has included the national Red Tractor week promotion, Trust the Tractor.  We had our farm assurance audit in the summer and passed which means the milk we sell can go into red tractor labelled products.  The Red Tractor farm assurance covers animal welfare, food hygiene, traceability and environmental management so is a really good way of checking that the cows are well looked after as well as showing the products are made, stored and treated appropriately.  Once the dairy is up and running we will start looking at whether to get certification for our own products as well which means getting additional specialist audits for the dairy and cheese room itself as well as the existing one for the milk.

It has been busy in the fields too with the maize silage finished this week.  This, with the grass silage will make up the bulk of the cows winter feed and they are always keen to start eating it as soon as it is ready.

Maize sileage clamp

Maize silage clamp


Summer calves and Winter straw

While most normal people have been enjoying the lovely warm days of summer, thoughts on the farm have turned to winter.  During spring, summer and autumn our girls are out on the pasture but in winter they live in a large straw bedded barn, rather than the cubicles many farms have.  This means getting ready for winter is a mammoth task and providing fresh straw bedding every day of winter means we have to buy in more than 500 tonnes of straw from other arable farms and cart it back to the farm.

At the same time we have to deal with the 500 plus tonnes of dung that came out of the barns from last winter and has been rotting down over the summer.  This has to be spread onto the fields to give the crops and grass food for next year and has be done before our clay ground gets water logged in the late autumn.

Straw bales

Straw bales

Late summer is a very busy and slightly smelly time on the farm and on top of all the field work it is the time when we get most calves born too.

Over the summer our Facebook friends have been suggesting names for this years heifer calves.  Each year we breed 20 to 30 Friesian Holstein heifer calves.  We would expect nearly all of these babies to make it into the milking herd in two to three years time when they have calves of their own.  We had nearly 350 entries into the calf naming competition and the three winning names who received a cuddly cow were: Heffy Flump, which was chosen as a winner by Chelsea who works on the farm and is now the name of the first calf she bred.

Cuddly cow

Cuddly cow

Lily Pops, which was picked out by my husband John and belongs to a calf with very long eye brows! And Mooberry was chosen by me and is one of our darker calves who has colouring like the pet cow I had when I was little.







These three girls are living alongside a new group of friends including Daphne and Willow.  They have their own pens like each of the other calves.  The girls will stay in here for the first six to eight weeks, this makes sure they each get their own adlib food and water and then milk twice a day and don’t get pushed around by older bigger calves when it comes to feeding time.

When they are eight weeks old these three will be weaned off milk and then move into the group pen where Tulip, Meadow, Rio, Arya and Hermione currently live.

Meadow, Arya and Hermione

Meadow, Arya and Hermione

At three months they will all move to Chalvedon to join the older calves like Gertrude, Lavender, Buttercup and Natee in the straw barn where they will live until the following spring when they will be old enough to go out to graze on the fresh grass.  We have named all the calves born since January with names suggested on Facebook:

Buttercup, Ermintrude, Jasmine, Gertude, Natee, Lavender and Petal

Buttercup, Ermintrude, Jasmine, Gertude, Nattee, Lavender and Petal

Arya, Buttercup, Clover, Daisy, Daphne, Ermintrude, Flossy, Gertrude, Hermione, Jasmine, Kimmy, Lavender, Meadow, Natee, Oreo, Petal, Queenie, Rio, Summer, Tulip, Veronica, Willow.

These join three calves we had named earlier, Glacier (whose mum and sisters are very white and we always name after types of mint) and Rhubarb and Custard who are twins born in July. 

With another 10 heifer calves expected in September and October we will be using a further 10 names as they are born – Arwen, Bella, Connie, Elsie, Freya, Juniper, Marigold, Olivia, Tinkerbell and finally, yes Marion, we will be calling one Pamela just for you.  We are saving Snowdrop or Snowflake for when we get a very white calf again.

Our heifers born last year coming up from the fields

Our heifers born last year coming up from the fields





Crash and Bang

We thought summer was nearly here last week but then we all got a little bit soggy again.  My sister had an even earlier start than usual to check our girls were ok in the thunder (she is normally up at 3.30am every day to milk the cows).  Whilst they like to be out normally they were huddled under the trees and keen to keep dry but they were all fine, which is more than can be said for Piglet the terrier who definitely does not like Mr Bang coming.


Piglet (on the right) with Maisy

We had more delights of urban fringe farming and a second big bang of the week with a car crashing through the gates into the horse field and being abandoned, with a very quick police response removing it as it appears to have been a robbery getaway vehicle.  Horses merely ignored all this and walked back to the stable paddock.

Once the fencing was repaired the rain has meant a bit of time for indoor work and things have moved on in milk room.  The two tanks for full fat and skimmed milk have been installed, the plumbing is in, the piping to transfer fresh milk from the parlour tank is all in place and the mini shop space conversion has begun and the door hung.

In the meantime we had our cheese consultant visit to see how we are getting on.  He liked the cheeses we have been trialling and gave us some advice on fine tuning the recipes over the next couple of months.  Starting yesterday we have the first new batch of Chalvedon made, we are tweaking the temperature and brine levels.  We will be trying it in 10 days and then maturing it for 1, 2 and 3 months to see any differences.  The rest of the milk equipment is (fingers crossed) still on schedule to be installed in July.

A Fortnight of Firsts

It has been quite a fortnight of firsts for the us and our new dairy. About a week ago we had a radio interview with Peter Holmes from BBC Essex. He wanted to talk to us about the dairy crisis and our plans for making cheese. We took the plunge and said we would do our first interview with great trepidation.  Speaking in public is not really my forte.

Clare and Nick with Peter and the calves

Clare and Nick with Peter and the calves

Peter interviewing Clare and enjoying some cheese at the same time!

Peter interviewing Clare and enjoying some cheese at the same tim









Peter was great and it wasn’t quite as scary as I thought it would be and we were expecting a small piece on his show today. Completely taken aback by the fantastic coverage he gave us, including announcing our new cheese in the opening news. Not what we were expecting to hear but great that he was a keen on talking about cheese as we are.  We are waiting to hear all the suggestions from listeners on what we should name our new soft cheese, we heard a few suggestions on air including Bradfields Spread, Yessex and Essex Cheese.  You can hear the show (7th May) on his BBC webpage for the next four of weeks, the main interview is about an hour and a quarter in.  The coverage has been great and we have new followers, friends and enquiries already. Welcome to you all and thanks for the retweets.

The batch of Chalvedon pictured on the BBC facebook page has now become the very first batch to go in our cold room to mature, we had the “grand” switching on this week.

We also ventured to the West Midland to pick up the two tanks for the milk pasteurising plant.  These will hold the milk once the pasteuriser and cream separator are up and running and are the first bits of kit to arrive. Fingers crossed for the rest to be here in July.

There are babies everywhere

Our pond has long been home to a collapsing, formerly floating duck house. We are as a family rather fond of ducks (my nieces very favourite animal) and always love to see them on the pond. I wouldn’t like to say how many hours of mine and my sisters childhood were spent trying to get the ducks in to keep them safe overnight but we gave up the battle of pet ducks versus foxes many many years ago. If they wanted to stay out all night at least we could give them somewhere safe for them to stay, and that was when the floating duck house was made. 

The new duckhouse

The new duckhouse

We have been thinking about doing something about the duck house for some time but despite its poor condition the duck house has been home to Mr and Mrs Moorhen for years. They usually produce two broods of black fluffy balls with long feet each year and we knew some were on the way as they had rather aggressively chased off the remaining offspring from last batch last month.  So with Mrs Moorhen possibly nesting we couldn’t go near the old duck house so instead we finally got round to having a new one made. Launched with fingers crossed a few weeks ago it floated beautifully and has sat empty ever since.

Mrs Moorhen emerged at the weekend with 4 of 5 (they are hard to spot sometimes) new babies and promptly re-located from old duck house to new which was lovely to see but more was yet to come.  It appears that rather than desire to live in a new build she was escaping noisy neighbours, hidden away in the other half of the old duck house a wild Mallard was nesting too.

She emerged briefly at the weekend with half a dozen cute ducklings, only to retreat back inside and come out today with more.  We think there are 18 baby mallards in total scooting around the pond in all directions with surprising bursts of speed. With two sets of parents as well the pond has never been so busy and there are quite literally babies everywhere you look.

The proud mum

The proud mum


Ducks everywhere

Baby duck near its' new home

Baby duck near its’ new home

Tough times

It has been quite a start to the year for dairy farming. Over the last 12 months we have all watched the wholesale milk prices plummet and it is still going down. Some farmers lost 3.5p a litre in a month and we have recently been issued with another 1.5p cut after a 1p cut last month. To put that in perspective every penny is worth £10,000 a year across the whole herd. But we are one of the lucky ones, some farmers don’t have a contract and have to rely on a straight market price which is much worse. So whilst we now lose money for every litre we produce we are not losing as much as some other people.

It is too much for many, another Essex dairy farm sold up last month and we have heard of another 4 or 5 going in east Anglia too. It is so sad to see the animals going, when you have spent your whole life building your herd and suddenly they have no value to anyone.

There are lots of complicated reasons why the price has dropped and I am far from an expert in these but it seems a range of factors from international markets and demand changing. China started importing a lot as their economy grew and it is not so good now, I was told by someone Russia have stopped or reduced EU imports and at home some places sell milk as a loss leader for less than it costs to produce. In the better times some people expanded giving more supply and the problem with dairy is it is like turning a super tanker. You can’t just turn cows milk off or moth ball them until better times.

The sad fact is that the market will rebalance as so many farms go out of dairy there will at some point be less supply and prices will rise again. The challenge is to keep going until we can break even again, and not be one of the ones going out. Our cows perform in the top 10% in the country so we can’t be much more efficient, we can’t scale up as we are a small farm surrounded by development so becoming more self sufficient and selling some of our milk direct is our only survival option. It wasn’t why we started the dairy, that was always for me to have a new role and come home to the farm but now it might be what helps us keep the cows in the fields.  We hope to be selling some of our milk soon.  So watch this space for further details.

Cheese developments

Our new cheese maturing room, an ex-chiller lorry, was turned on for the first time on Friday. It is all working, so we started the next batch of cheeses today with a 10kg make of Chalvedon our Tomme style cheese.  We are going to try salting it with three different levels tomorrow to see which level comes out best.

The walls are all finished in the milk dairy and the floor will be going down in the next fortnight. With the equipment on the way in six weeks time there is lots to get finished quite quickly.

On the farm they are having to cope with the effects of the rain. They had a lovely heifer calf born on Thursday, we will have to think of a nice name for her.

‘Chalvedon’ Tomme style cheese

Happy New Year

I can’t believe 2016 is already here, we have had a really busy few months, during which have been refining three of our cheese recipes.

The first is a Tomme, alpine style which we are calling Chalvedon, this is named after Little Chalvedon Hall which is a farm we rent nearby where we keep our young calves and heifers before they join the herd.


Young calves and heifers

The second is a soft cheese which we are thinking of calling Dulce after Dulce Domun, a small house round the corner from the farm which is latin for sweet home. This has a very fresh slight acidic taste so we are still thinking about whether this is the right name.

Finally we are still working on a crumbly hard cheese which is called Westcroft. This is named after the house where my grandmother lived in Burntmills Road in the 1920’s. She met my grandfather who regularly walked past from his home Elm Bank in Hove Fields Avenue and from Bradfields when his family moved there in 1922. This cheese takes three months to mature so will take longer to refine.


‘Westcroft’ crumbly cheese

The biggest challenge we have been having is storing the cheese in the right conditions so at the moment we have only been able to make one type and mature it at a time, but we have just put in a chilled container which will give us space to make all the cheeses regularly.

As well as the cheeses I have completed my level three food hygiene training and we have been moving forward fast with a small scale milk pasteurising plant. We are setting up a space for this inside our barn, and are in the process of recladding the internal walls this week. The equipment will be going in in February and March and we hope to be up and running with full fat, semi-skimmed and double cream on sale from the farm by late spring/early summer.

We have been out and about speaking to a handful of local farm shops to see if they would be interested in stocking local Essex milk as well and will be back out with samples to more shops, cafes and restaurants as soon as the plant is up and running.

It has been a busy time on the farm too. We still have some cultivations to do though it is far too wet to do anything in the fields at the moment. But with all the animals in for the winter keeping the yards bedded with straw and the girls fed is a big part of the daily routine on top of the normal milking.


Springtime !

This week was the start of spring for us and seems like a good time to start writing and recording our journey to cheese and news on the farm.

As a gardener at heart, spring has for the past few years been signified for me by the flowers that come out and the blossom on the cherry trees. But as a child growing up on the farm there was always a different milestone, it was the cows going out for the first time that meant spring was here.

After months in the cow shed over winter our usually mellow, chilled and plodding cows take a childish joy in their first steps on to the grass, running, bucking, jostling for position in the herd and then eating as much fresh grass as they can as quickly as possible.

The Cows in their Winter Quarters


Heading out to the Fields


Time to Play!


Now for some Nice Grass


We have been at the farm a lot this week, making a trial batch of soft lactic cheese which needs attention each day draining and turning. We also made a bit of yoghurt and drained some into a basic yoghurt cheese which we will mix with some fresh mint as a quick farmhouse cheese spread. The lactic cheese is the first cheese to be matured in our creamery shed, a cold room we have fitted inside my Dad’s old workshop, so a huge milestone for us. We have a long journey ahead before we have food safety approved cheese finished, but it is great to start experimenting and making these first steps.

First lactic cheese

First lactic cheese

Being at Bradfields all weekend meant we got to see the cows go out on Monday, so our next cheese make will be from Essex grass fed milk. The cows queued at the gate as if they knew what was about to happen and enjoyed stretching their legs in the grass and the remains of the winter mud.  They will still come in at night until the weather is a bit warmer but spring is definitely here for them and us.

Welcome to our new Bradfields Farm website

Welcome to our new Bradfields Farm website.

The Dairy at Bradfields Farm is a new enterprise currently under development.


We aim to manufacture a small range of good quality local dairy products direct from the farm, to Essex and the surrounding area through farmers markets and new farm shop.

We are currently researching what products people would be interested in buying locally and recruiting tasters to provide feedback when we start production next year.