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Maple Field Milk


26th August 2012                  



It rained yesterday like a Caribbean cyclone .Standing corn leaned over under the deluge. What I noticed was this.  Arable gateways onto the roads were marked out with muddy wheel tracks leading away from the harvest field to the grainstore. Normally tracks marked out in dust and wispy straw – chaff even – but seldom in mud !

Close by, a pea/wheat/oil seed rape farmer watched his 2012 pea harvest rustle over the combine shakers and plop on the ground behind the very modern combine because the peas were too small and too  light to be saved  . Bring back the ‘gleaners’. Why can’t a modern combine have its shakers turned right down to accommodate the smallest pea ?

Even modern people get caught out. Dairy cows loll about in summer wonder,  knee deep in grass.” Now shall I have a breakfast of cocksfoot or hawkweed or perhaps a little quaking grass ‘to go….” The pressure is off the hogs . No sun – no sunburn and best off , all masses of mud. Futurefarms have harvested a fantastic crop of onions which are drying in the new polytunnel –probably approaching the best we’ve had (since 2003).So all is never lost with diverse crops.

All the rest of the dairy equipment arrives this coming Wednesday from Lancashire …..all from Keith Birtwhistle ,Lancashire farmer and enthusiast dairy processor, provider and  dairy-aid-worker for the ‘soft southerner’ . Then we shall have a full set. A full deck .  Geoffrey, with terrifying  modesty, will fix it all together using experience and skill gained over 4 decades of dairy engineering. What a team. I find it difficult not to live on  a  building site with the roar of the cement mixer and the deafening background of Simply Red on max .

This week more discussions with Ian Crouch for the processing of some of his milk going direct to a big customer that has approached us for ‘direct local fresh milk’ .We are battling through the knotweed of payment schedules/price per litre/ tests and more tests .Above all…… could be fab. Milk not an hour over 2 days old. Rich and creamy or not depending on taste. Nutritionists going into swoons over the nourishment .Not a food mile in sight.

Not only Ian……….. but Ben, from the sumptuous grass meadows of the River Stour. Ben only went into dairy in order to sell his own stuff direct but can’t quite face the processing….. so would we do it for him ?..........Well -  this is exactly what we hoped would happen.

At Maple Field we have created something from scratch. Something from nothing.  The wooden buildings are already home to sparrows, mice and bats. The human neighbours may disapprove but the wild creatures can immediately see the point.  The dairy cows see the point . Well anyway they see the cocksfoot.

Futurefarms has done a wonderful thing. Groups have formed that were not groups before. The chicken group moved the 3 huts the other night ,pegging out the fences, towing the huts and reconnecting the water . Then when it was finished they set about a barbeque in the field under the towering cumulus clouds over Drove End field .This is a group with the common interest in chickens. This ,more than the food produced, might be the greatest achievement.

The bail sound system has become interested in Noah and the Whales ……’.2 atoms in a molecule’ in particular. Can this do any harm to the hearing of a dairy cow ?



Nick Snelgar head shotWhat is going to happen to us ?  I heard the rain drilling through the caravan roof last night and I could’nt sleep after it.  Ripe cereals sway and drag against one another feeling dismal with the rain.  I drove to the Welsh borders yesterday and from horizon to horizon there were fields  exhibiting an astonishing deep brownness flecked with a wheezy fungal imprint .  We need two weeks of frisky breezes from the east and the north – enough to send pretty girls running down the streets of county towns in bright summer skirts  while the grain farmers watch their moisture meters stabilize around the correct ‘percentage’. Only then can the circus of combines and ‘ followers’ start out into the harvest lanes.

Dairy cows meanwhile wonder about the fuss.  Their grass is knee-high and plentiful. Their routine is unbroken.

It makes you wonder about single enterprise farms . It takes me back to the thinking behind my mentor and teacher in 1972 – Guy Hole of Bradle Farm  ,Isle of Purbeck,Dorset  who always repeated like a monastic chant ‘you must always have something to sell’ .In his case it was hay;  young stock; piglets; milk ;advice etc …..oh …and Mary’s scones at the farm gate on the weekend smothered with fresh whipped cream.

How could the ‘mixed farm’ have been written out of the text books ? How could a ‘specialist’ become the norm when laid out in front of British weather ?

In the dairy room we are getting very near completion and testing. We’ll run the whole system with water only until we are really sure of it . Then we shall approach the Environmental Health for a licence to process and sell fresh milk.  The Prince’s Countryside Fund are happy with our progress and a senior director of Dairy Crest visited us a few Saturdays ago and was pleased a delighted with our achievements since he last came to the farm.  I am hoping to meet Arthur Hozier’s great grand daughter very soon . She has agreed to see me . How interesting is that ?  What will she think of the 2-berth milking bail modelled on her great grandfather’s fantastic ideas ? She seems pleased that someone is following the  version of outdoor milking that he made famous in the 1930’s.

One of our directors did a keeping test on the raw milk from our cows.  It is now 9 days old (in the fridge at 4 degrees) .She opens the  carton every day to check  . She applies the ‘sniff’ test. How long do you expect to keep ‘raw milk’ ?

Nick Snelgar

Emergency up-date:  The milk under test has kept fresh and usable for 11 days .11 days with no treatment or intervention since it left the cow. 


10th June 2012


Nick Snelgar head shotDo you know what a pasteurizer is ? Louis Pasteur invented the process by which  fresh milk (and other ‘fresh’ substances such as apple juice) can be rendered harmless to the human being. The process involves passing fresh milk through a series of ‘plates’ where the temperature of the milk may be raised to 78 degrees C for 5 seconds and then dropped quickly by moving it through more plates. So we now have a giant lump of gleaming stainless steel machinery standing at one end of the Dairy room . It is all set about with dials and buttons and recording charts , and pipes and valves and pumps. At least you can see all of  it all of the time. It is not built for beauty.

This machine will process 500 litres of fresh milk per hour. I now have to learn all about it. I tape recorded my conversation with Jason from the company who supplied it  and I shall write this up when I have a moment. Actually……..I am slightly avoiding it. It is so important. I am just not quite ready. I know - I’ll ask Tim Wilcox to come over ! 

I love moving the Bail. I have a good routine . The metal hurdles go inside the vehicle ;the food bins load at the front ; the ground jacks wind up and clamp tight ; the exit ramp is lifted and fixed tight against the opening and the rear ramp goes up at the touch of finger with the help of clever spring-loading. You have to be a weight lifter with a massive support belt to manage the side ramp. I’ve got to look at this. Then you start the International Harvester 574 and move slowly to the next site leaving all the detritus behind (not, obviously spent rubber gloves and used impregnated teat wipes and twix wrappers) but everything else.

The Nomad feel to this really suits me. I like the idea of being on the move . I like the idea of keeping ahead of the bacteria . I like the fact that  the cows become universal dung spreaders. There I was, yesterday , standing under the warm summer rain with one shoulder pressed against the rain-soaked flank of a dairy cow listening to the ‘click-pulse, click-pulse’ of the milking machine and looking out over Martin Down and I thought …….this is not a bad ‘work place’.

I have found and bought an automatic milk bottle filler and it was delivered on Friday. It looks quite simple .It fills 4 containers at a time through what appear to be giant ‘optics’ as you might find in a pub dispensing brandy and the like. Day time work for bar maids perhaps.

We TB tested the calves and they passed. The cattle pen worked well and careful preparation made for a smooth visit for the vet. Each time the procedure goes well your confidence builds . One day we might be considered as dairy farmers but not for a while.

Nick Snelgar

Fantastic Redpolls

Nick Snelgar head shotFrom the start I have been crowing on about Redpoll cows to all and sundry and then ... 2 Jersey cows turn up on Maple Field. Whats happening? I wobbled violently over whether or not the gene pool of the ‘dairy’ side of the Redpoll breed had become an oxbow lake. Had the influence of ‘beef’ and breeding for a good carcass not a good udder, since the 1960s, turned them into sucklers, not milkers?

I puzzled over this problem until last Saturday. Over a delicious bacon roll at the nearby Bowerchalke Market, I met Quentin Edwards who keeps Redpolls on his farm at East  Knoyle ( He is an evangelist for the breed and since his herd comes from a dairy background, he can (and frequently does) sell milk-producing heifers. We are off to East Knoyle next weekend for an udder viewing. My late uncle –John Ironmonger – kept a pedigree herd of Redpolls for milking in the 1960s on the Shaftesbury Estate, Dorset until the fashion changed to Fresian herds with separate beef enterprises. Don’t forget that  beef  production was always a by-product of the dairy herd. Only quite recently have specialized herds of single-suckler cows ranged over our lowland farms.

Fitting out the Dairy room has slowed to a snail’s pace as my builder friend has become ill. It's not a bad thing for we have changed the position of the cold room to the opposite corner of the room, which means there is no door to the outside. Better security in all respects and easier to ‘cool’. This has got to be right, and time spent now may save us in the long run ... and this is for the long run don’t forget.

The tractor hitch is too high for the bail. When hitched on to the International Harvester 574 the floor of the bail slopes backwards at an alarming degree; we don’t want to make the girls work too hard. We want them to enjoy their milking. Who wants their horizon upset in the early morning? So I tried to reverse the hitch. The nuts and bolts were welded tight with iron age rust. I called in Chris –the 6th emergency service - and so easily, with heat and moderate violence he took the hitch apart. Is this thing ‘over built’? Do I need the power of 64 horses?


If each horse requires 1 acre of pasture to survive the year, I would need to rent 64 extra acres at £100 each = £ 6,400. If they eat through a 20-week winter like my Jersey cows, then 2 horses will eat one bale of haylage per week; 64 horses will need  640 bales at £30 each for a 20-week winter, which gives a feed bill of £19,200. That means that my energy bill for a year would be £25,600. We’ll see how much diesel the International uses in a year. I feel a savings coming on!

Is It Still Winter

Nick Snelgar head shotEvery morning I wake to the din of a blackbird in a tall roadside Maple. Have I missed something? Some mornings the tractor windscreen is touched with frost – but not many. The temperature wanders around 8 to 10 centigrade, which is hardly wintry. Snowdrops already build up a smooth froth on the south facing banks – and I have seen a russet glow forming on the willow.

I am wrestling with  timber ‘firring pieces.’ Our local joiner has machined down some lengths of 4-by-2 to provide a straight guide for us to lay the floor screed to. The firring tapers from 2” down to 1 1/2” over its length to give the finished floor a slight run, or flow, towards the drain. That’s another local craftsman pulling his weight behind this enterprise.

The International Harvester 574 tractor is due to have its handbrake mended next week. I dare not start milking before the power source is totally reliable. Fortunately I have found someone with the knowledge and the will, and someone with brim-full enthusiasm for the more Bronze Age tractor.  Again, we must – all of us, small-holders and townsfolk alike, marvel at and encourage great men and women engineers and husband/people to continue their vital work in getting us all fed. When the dairy is finished and the fresh milking is gushing through the system, we shall publish a list of everyone who was involved in bringing it off; lets marvel at just who is behind a pint of milk on a supermarket shelf or on a damp doorstep in Hampshire.

A small farm near us keeps Swiss Brown cows and they process their milk for cheese. I hope to meet them next week and  find out more. I do already feel part of a ‘movement.’

We are in discussions with an energy company to try and find a system to power the dairy entirely from the sun.

Secretary of State Caroline Spellman (D.E.F.R.A) told us last week that her Department used only 18% British food to feed itself - the remaining 82% was sourced from abroad. What sort of example is that for other Departments?

Notes on the Side: 

I have a book on the go at the moment called "England in Particular" by Sue Clifford and Angela King (2006) of Commonground  (, which brings together all my interests and talks with deep knowledge about everything from the Dorset Coast to Dew Ponds. The trouble is I just want to sit and read it ! 

G.K Chesterton in "What’s wrong with the World" says, "All men in history who have really done anything with the future had their eyes fixed upon the past" - eg, the Renaissance.

New Year - The First Year

Nick Snelgar head shotWatch out ... the food runs away so fast. The nutrient stream runs thin, and we have bought in round bales of ‘haylage,’ which is a strike between early cut juicy silage and a later cut of hay. It is much drier, but wrapped like silage. It smells like an exotic tea, and the small holding has the scent of  a Shri-Lankan plantation in summer. My friend Gerald has loaned me a Ring Feeder, which provides a kid’s climbing frame ring around the precious bale so there should be no waste. The International Harvester 574 (68hp) beast with the ’Quicke’ fore-loader  is so used to this kind of grunt work. Feeding time is now seldom, and painless.

Awful storms beat upon the barn and caravan, last week, to the point where sleep became impossible. The cows and calves buried their heads up to their shoulders in the hedge and presented their narrow backsides to the northwesterly torrent. The pigs gave up and took a long lie in. The fouls hardly noticed and stayed inside for two days. Lets not grumble – we have only had 4 frosts this winter, and the shortest day is long passed.

Geoffrey has worked out the final answer for fitting out the ‘bail’ with vacuum lines, pumps and ... even the total answer to the power-take-off ancient ‘bronze age’ spline. Nothing is too much trouble. Everyone involved in this really wants it to work.

I think farmers work constantly against unexpected and overwhelming odds, and they learn a natural inclination to cooperate with other people in similar situations.

The calf pen is finished and ready to trap the teenagers to start the weaning process. This can’t start until the ‘milking bail’ is ready to take over the milking from the calves – will the change-over be smooth and painless? Will the mothers, bolshily, hold back their precious milk from the intervening human? Very soon we shall find out.


We have run out of Martin Flour. This is ground from wheat (Solstice variety), which is grown by a village farmer/craft grower in a field called ... ’Well Ground’ ... no, I  didn’t make it up!

Back-of-a-bus-ticket interesting figures: Martin consists of 164 households. If each family use 2 loaves of bread each week – Martin Parish will need 17,000 loaves per year. Each loaf, roughly, comes from a square yard of ground devoted to wheat. That means the Parish needs 4 acres to provide it with the staff of life for one year (4840 square yards to the acre). The other thing is that  our craft grower has been growing ‘bread quality wheat’ year in year out for 15 years in southern Britain; in  damp chalky soils, there you go. We have had the flour tested and baked by great bakers, and there is no need to add hard wheats from Canada or the Ukraine. Martin wheat from ‘Well Ground’ is absolutely fine; it performs perfectly well.

My friend gave me a book called "Wildwood" by Roger Deakin. I walk around in a winter trance. You must, please, read it. You simply don’t know what will happen next ... you might be given a fab book.

I have a nephew-in-law living in Han Province of China, and I hope he is going to help me with stories and with beautiful photographs of rural China. It's difficult not to be excited in 2012.

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.


I can’t believe the sprouts and leeks coming from Futurefarms (our village Community owned farm) ( 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.


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