Jennifer MacKenzie is an agricultural photo journalist with almost 30 year's experience. Operating from her base in Cumbria, Jennifer undertakes mainly industry-related freelance writing and photography.
Northumbrian Pedigree Milk and Cream
A Northumberland farming family has embarked on a unique venture for the county – selling processed milk and cream direct from the traditionally-bred dairy herd.
The 100-cow Marleycote Dairy Shorthorn herd goes back more than 70 years – started by the late Geoffrey Baynes and the show-winning herd is now run by his son David and his wife Shirley and their sons Richard and Paul at Marleycote Walls, Slaley, near Hexham.
|Some of the contented Marleycote cows|
In spite of herd expansions over the decades, including the establishment of a 20-cow Ayrshire herd, the farm-gate milk price in recent years has been at a level which was cause for David Baynes and sons Richard and Paul to reassess the direction their business was going.
They had two choices that were clear to them - the first was to expand the herd and in turn increase milk production which was the most obvious move.
However as a pedigree herd, they considered the quality of their dairy cows to be as important as the volume of milk produced therefore by increasing the herd size they felt this could potentially compromise not only the herd quality but also add pressure to existing systems, such as housing, waste storage and grass availability.
Apart from all of this the family does not believe there will be a significant increase in the farm gate milk price in the near future.
The second option was to process their milk. This was first considered in the foot and mouth year of 2001 however it was not until the news of reform to the Common Agricultural Policy in 2003 that they realised that mass production was no longer the desirable option of the EU and less intensive, more environmentally friendly farming was favoured.
After 10 months of research and investment in a new dairy building and equipment including bulk tank storage, pasteuriser and bottling machine, Northumbrian Pedigree Milk and Cream was launched in May this year.
Already the business is supplying milk and cream to at least a dozen outlets in the Hexham area, including farm shops and restaurants, where customers are already commenting on the qualities of the milk which is delivered straight from production and processing on the farm.
While a number of dairy farms in the region are producing and retailing their own ice cream, research by the Baynes found that no one in Northumberland was processing and selling milk and cream. They also received positive feed-back from potential customers for the venture.
“Processing milk is a whole new direction for the family and we are looking forward to the challenges ahead. Dairy farming has not been easy in recent years and we consider ourselves lucky that we have this opportunity to develop our business in this positive way,” said Paul Baynes.
Some friends who had already established a successful on-farm processing business in Newark proved to be a source of invaluable information on the business and the equipment and set-up required.
With the help of a consultant, the lengthy process of grant application from Defra resulted in aid of 45 pc of the £70,000 costs of the new building, fixtures and fittings. Further investment was made in a new refrigerated van to deliver the milk.
The Baynes chose to stone clad the new 45ft by 30ft dairy building to be in-keeping with the traditional buildings on the farm. The building contains a processing room, cold store and office with storage on the first floor for new plastic bottles, all designed to meet the high standards required by environmental health regulations.
|Paul, David and Richard Baynes outside the new dairy building|
Currently they are processing 300 litres from their 2,000 litre daily production three times a week and volumes are rising steadily. Products include double, whipping and single cream, whole milk, semi-skimmed and skimmed milk.
It currently takes two hours to pasteurise and separate the required amount of milk from the previous evening which has a higher butterfat content than the morning milking.
The subsequent bottling process takes two people about three hours during which time orders come in for the following morning’s delivery by Paul, covering South Northumberland and including the villages of Acomb, Chollerford, Haydon Bridge, Corbridge, Blagdon and Blanchland.
Paul Baynes admits that the new business and marketing the milk has been a steep learning curve. He has completed a liquid milk and cream processing technology course at Reaseheath College, in Cheshire, as well as training in food hygiene
Building up the business from small beginnings would be difficult without the enthusiasm and dedication of all the family.
The Baynes have blended their Shorthorn cows with modern-day red and white cows, starting 20 years ago with some Swedish Red and subsequently American Milking Shorthorn, Ayrshire and Holstein without compromising on the traditional breed’s attributes of quality milk production, good health and longevity, to produce what they believe is the ideal dairy cow.
While few cows are 100 pc Shorthorn, the ideal is to maintain at least 50 pc Shorthorn bloodlines in the herd.
The Baynes saw their native breeds of red and white cattle as a good start in terms of marketing the milk.
And keen to capitalise on their milk qualities, the Baynes have deliberately maintained the naturalness of the milk by not homogenising it – a process which disperses the butterfat throughout the milk.
“Marketing our own milk is about making it that little bit different and by not homogenising the milk it gives it a cream line.
“Remarks we have heard from customers have been very positive and we have received comments that it is ‘proper’ milk.
“During a training course I attended at Reaseheath College, it was said that age and how milk was processed were the major factors which influence milk quality.”
“In terms of freshness we’re getting the milk and cream directly from the farm to our customers and our small dairy means the milk has the minimum of processing and pumping.
A further selling point is that the majority of the cows’ diet is home grown and it is all GM-free.
It is based on an 18 pc protein home mix of silage, barley, wheat made into wholecrop, soya and rape meal, fed to yield which averages 1.5 tonnes per cow per lactation.
The remainder of the milk is sold to First Milk but by the end of this year the family hopes to be more than doubling the amount of milk which goes through the direct sales.
For more details visit the website at www.northumbrianpedigree.com