What is the best milk for my coffee?
Spotlight on Mawley Milk!
Tell the readers a little more about Mawley, and what an average day looks like on the farm?
I’m not sure any day is average around here 😉 We milk the cows on an automated system that means the cows take themselves to be milked all round the clock, 24/7 so we don’t have conventional milking times. We are milking 300 cows, mostly pedigree Holstein Friesians (the well known black and whites) red Holstein Freisains (the more rare brown and white Holsteins) and Ayrshires & Dairy Shorthorns – good sturdy cows all with very docile temperaments. The dairy starts up around 4.30am getting ready to start pasteurising and bottling the lovely fresh milk, meanwhile on the farm we are checking all the cows have been for milking and they are all fit and healthy. Father in law David feeds the cows each morning at 7am. The cows are creatures of habit; as soon as they hear the tractor and feeder coming they all head to the feed passage! This gives us a chance to clean off their beds (called cubicles) and put fresh bedding down. When all the routine morning jobs are completed, we move onto calf feeding, bedding and feeding bulls and youngstock. Depending on the season, we may have a busy day ahead with the arable work, as we grow all the cereals and forage for the cattle ourselves. We also do daily checks on cattle out grazing; count they are all there and check fencing is all secure. In the winter the days are busy with maintenance of buildings and machinery. Back in the dairy, the pasteurising and bottling is finished around 9.30am and the vans are loaded up and away on the delivery routes. The farm office is very busy, dealing with the day to day running of the farm, taking orders from our customers, and keeping on top of food safety, payroll and health & safety. Late afternoon we check all the cows have milked properly and round up a few lazy ones who haven’t been through the milking system all day. The calves are fed their second feed of the day and we prepare the yard for the night time. Our cows calve all year round to give a steady milk supply and we get 3 – 4 calves born every week. It may mean that we pop up to check on a cow who may be calving if a cow gives birth at night. Night time checks are done each evening, we push up any remaining silage in the feed passages so the cows can reach it, we double check all the gates are closed and the farm is secure and only then the farmer can finally put his feet up! We sell about ⅓ of the milk the cows produce in a day directly to customers as Mawley Milk; the rest is sold under a contract to a national milk buyer, so we get a visit from the milk tanker to collect the remaining milk, this is usually late at night. The milkman we supply comes to collect the milk for his round after 12am. We are ‘the farm that never sleeps’!
So what’s the difference in Non homogonised and homogonised milk, and why have you chosen to go down the non-homogonised route?
Homogenisation, as its name suggests, means the milk has been made homogenous – ‘the same’. Homogenisation is a process that forces the milk at high pressure through a sieve to break down the cream molecules. This stops the cream rising to the top. It was introduced when supermarkets wanted a standardised product that looked aesthetically pleasing. We believe the milk has much better taste and quality when it is as close to its natural state as possible; all we do is pasteurise to make sure the milk is safe from any potential bacteria. Cream is lighter than milk so naturally rises to the top; just a gentle shake of the carton mixes the cream back through the milk; although personally, I do quite like the first blob of cream on my cornflakes!
What pasture do you believe is best for dairy cows?
We use a variety of pastures, from modern short term leys which are grown in a traditional rotation with other crops (a field may have grass grown one year then put into wheat the next, for example), to some old traditional pastures near to woodlands or on steep banks that havent been ploughed for
many years. These older meadows are more suited to the young stock and dry cows who aren’t so dependent on quality and productivity of the ley. The milking cows benefit from the modern grass leys, which are rich in nutrients and are fast growing.
Now we are into the winter months, is there anything you do differently with the cows than you would normally in the warmer months?
Cows are predominantly on the same feed rations all year round but in the summer they have addition of outside access for grass. Cows are ruminants with 4 stomachs and changes to their diet have to be introduced gradually. They also like routine and any changes, such as TB testing which is very disruptive to their usual day, does impact them and we see a drop in the visits to the milking machines. Our cows are very quiet and calm, unless of course it’s the first day being turned out, then you will see them kicking their heels charging about and playing for half an hour, but they soon settle and its heads down to the grass! As the milking system runs 24 hours a day, the cows always have access to the milking sheds which in addition gives them the opportunity to come back to lie in the shade if its a sunny day.
Do you think changes in the season has much of an impact on the quality of milk? As previously mentioned, the bulk of the cows diet remains consistent throughout the year – mostly grass and maize silage and a small amount of concentrated feed to make sure they are getting the right balance of nutrients. This keeps the milk quality consistent though the changing seasons. In New Zealand where they have a flush of spring grass, they ‘block calve’ their cows so all calves are born in readiness for the spring grass, then the cows all stop milking 10 months later when they have naturally finished lactating. We don’t have the same climate in the UK to lend itself to this system – certainly where we are in South Shropshire grass alone wouldn’t be able to sustain the herd all year round. We breed our cows to calve all year round to give us a steady milk supply throughout the seasons.
Tell us a little more about silage, and why is it important for cows?
Silage is a brilliant high-energy feed that is sweet, starchy and very palatable. We grow maize and rye grass that is stored air-tight in large silage clamps, which pickles over time so we can feed all year round. It gives the cows consistency in their diet and we can alter the ratios depending on whether it’s fed to youngsters (who may have more hay added than maize for example), or milking cows who need more energy in their diet. If the cows were just fed grass, the growing seasons have variations in quality. Silage however can be cut at its peak sugar and energy levels ensuring the crop is at its best when it’s harvested and stored. We employ the services of a specialist cow nutritionist (yes that’s a thing!) who analyses the quality of the silage so we know we are feeding the right balance.
How do you ensure the quality and consistency of the milk time after time?
The cow’s comfort, welfare and diet are all central to our farming operations. We are in complete control of the whole cycle – from the crops we grow, how they are managed and harvested and we mill and mix the feed rations here at Mawley. The robotic automated milking system has been life-changing for the cows and for us! They girls are quiet and content taking themselves off for milking whenever they choose to. The milk is so fresh; being filtered and chilled within seconds of milking, and is pasteurised and bottled just meters away from the cows. We have total control over the cleanliness and raw milk quality, all adding up to a consistently high welfare, high quality product that is fully traceable.
Something we are fiercely passionate about here is being as eco-friendly as possible. Tell us more about your processes in how you manage to keep your business as eco friendly as possible?
Being a traditional mixed farm (dairy, beef and arable) we benefit from the farmyard waste from the cattle sheds being put back into the land to improve soil quality and structure. Growing crops on a rotational basis, (maize, then wheat, then grass etc) helps with weed prevention and doesn’t strip the land of certain nutrients, as each crop has different nutrient needs. We have given land over to wildlife strips which act as a buffer to water courses, and we have areas of land planted with a mix of native flowering plants for wild birds, which also attracts insects. We are really fortunate to have nearby nesting Red Kites and also harvest mice – we believe we can be a modern, efficient farm – here to feed a large population, work alongside wildlife and look after the environment at the same time. With the cows milking over 24 hours a day and the dairy being in action 6 mornings a week, we have high electricity consumption. We have overcome this by being 100% self sufficient in electricity production on the farm with 3 renewable energy technologies – 100kw solar panels, 75kw wind turbine, and an 80kw Biodigester. The Biodigester is a large domed tank that captures gas found naturally in the cow slurry. The gas runs an engine to generate electricity, and using cold water by heat exchange to cool the engine, we also get hot water. We can use the hot water to preheat boilers for washing the dairy, milking machines, and it also heats the farmhouse & frost proofs the cattle housing in winter. This has really had a positive impact by dramatically reducing our carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels.