12 June 2012 | By Ann Hardy
IF the biggest advocate for local produce is the farmer which makes it, then Celia Haynes is the example to follow, as Ann Hardy discovered when she visited the family farm on the border of Surrey and Hampshire.
Celia Haynes says she dare not advertise the dairy produce she and her husband Peter sell from their Meadow Cottage Farm, located on the border of Surrey and Hampshire.
“I don’t think we could cope with any extra demand,” she says, scarcely pausing for breath while fielding telephone orders, serving passing customers and preparing lunch for the family team.
“We are members of the producer group Hampshire Fare, and they promote our produce at the various farmers’ markets, but I don’t think we’d dare to advertise any more widely,” she says.
The produce which evidently sells itself comprises the raw, unpasteurised milk produced by the family’s Weydown herd of Jerseys; a prize-winning range of ice creams and sorbets and the thick, yellow cream which flies off the shelves particularly fast at this time of year as the strawberries come into season.
The couple’s history in raw milk production goes back around 45 years when they first bought the 9-hectare (23-acre) holding just outside the leafy Surrey village of Churt, between Farnham and Haslemere.
Meadow Cottage’s produce
- Meadow Cottage raw milk (priced at £1.20 per two pints) and cream are sold from the premises in Churt, Surrey and at Winchester, Petersfield and Milford Farmers’ Markets
- The award-winning ice cream is sold from the same locations and at shops and delicatessens throughout the area. Ice cream comes in more than 20 varieties, ranging from ‘simply unflavoured’ to ‘honey and lavender’
Celia had been studying at Studley Horticultural and Agricultural College for Women in Warwickshire where she had met Peter, a local farmer’s son, and the couple decided they preferred the light and workable soils of Celia’s home area to the cold and heavy clays which were characteristic of Peter’s family farm.
“We were married in August 1967 and by the end of the year – just before the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak – we had acq-uired 40 Jerseys for the farm,” she says.
Beginning in partnership with her brother Hugh, and establishing the company as Blackburne and Haynes, the family team started to produce cream in 1968 and began to bottle milk the following year.
“Lots of people bottled raw milk in those days,” she says, “Numbers have greatly dwindled since, and today there are only around 100 farms which are registered to produce it and probably less than 30 in active milk production.”
Driven into bottling and cream production purely through economic necessity and with a desire to support the family in the business, Celia has since become evangelical about the virtues of the unpasteurised product.
“The health benefits are immeasurable,” she insists. “It’s a natural, easily digestible product and doctors regularly send people here with eczema, asthma, Crohn’s disease and all kinds of allergies and the results are quite remarkable.
“Even autistic children who are put on a natural diet have been seen to benefit enormously, while we had one child who had been on medication since birth, whose digestive problems were completely cured when she switched to unpasteurised milk, and now at three years old she no longer needs medication.”
But Celia’s zeal is countered by equally fervent opponents to raw milk, and a widely held mind-set among the population in favour of pasteurisation.
After all, was pasteurisation not hailed as the saviour of milk production in the context of human health, banishing disease-causing pathogens including those behind TB, brucellosis and a range of other ills?
“Yes, we have got into that mind-set about pasteurisation but it’s the worst thing which ever happened to milk,” says Celia. “It doesn’t just kill the bacteria – good and bad – but it destroys amino acids and enzymes which can do the body so much good.
“Once these amino acids and enzymes have been destroyed, the body just can’t deal with them and dumps them from the system – a problem which occurs with so many over-processed foods.”
Her thoughts on homogenisation are equally as strong. “I have yet to hear a convincing argument in favour of this process.”
Arguing the good bacteria in raw milk plays an important part in preventing spoilage by the bad, she has total confidence in the complete lack of pathogens in the farm’s milk, and says the stringent testing it goes through gives her absolute peace of mind.
“No one to my knowledge has ever had any problems,” she says, adding any human health issues are far more likely to originate in poorly pasteurised milk produced under less hygienic conditions.
The testing required of the milk is said to be more onerous than in conventional systems, including spot tests at any time for salmonella, campylobacter, listeria and other pathogens,annual testing of cattle for TB and local authority inspections of the premises and equipment.
“There’s a manual a mile long of regulations for unpasteurised milk,” says Celia. “And of course, our milk has to carry a government health warning which we think is hilarious – no-one has to put this on booze or pop, which really can do harm.”
Raw milk facts
- Raw milk can only be sold by the producer off the premises or at a farmers’ market
- Raw milk has to carry a government health warning
- Raw cream can be sold without this warning because of the better preservation qualities of the high fat product
- Ice cream cannot be made with raw milk as pasteurisation is required by law when other ingredients are added to the milk
Accepting a TB reactor would immediately close down production, she says the production diseases of IBR, BVD and leptospirosis are also absent from the herd, and the entire premises is double-fenced and lacks any potentially infected water-courses, adding to the tight bio-security.
Out in the yard, Peter is said to be ‘squeaky clean’ with his production, and regularly achieves Bactoscans of 15, and has a 12-month rolling somatic cell count now at 137.
With the 70-strong milking herd loose-housed on straw, he says their sheds are completely cleaned every four weeks, but not disinfected, as he also holds the view good indigenous bacteria will crowd out the bad, in housing just as in milk.
In the parlour, the routine is said to be strict but standard practice, while cows with elevated cell counts are treated as early as possible in the offending quarter and removed from the system if chronically or recurrently infected.
Calves are reared in groups on foster mothers because Peter believes it is cheaper, easier and the milk is always at the right temperature, and replacement heifers are reared to calve at two years three months, with the surplus meeting a thriving trade both in the UK and overseas.
The herd’s annual production levels out at 4,800kg at 5.7 per cent fat and 3.8 per cent protein, with cows fed a diet including red clover and grass silage (5kg fresh weight), maize silage (19kg), hay (2kg), brewers grains (12kg), and an 18 per cent protein cake (6kg), all designed to encourage good milk components.
Without a wagon on the farm, ingredients are largely fed unmixed, and the overall performance results in a margin over all purchased feed of 23.43p per litre, based on the Milk Link price of 30.27p.
“We sell about 40 per cent of the milk to Milk Link,” says Celia, who explains how the remainder is split between milk, cream and ice cream, and that – as luck would have it – the tanker collects at 10.30pm, leaving milk in the tank for a variety of uses throughout the day.
“The bottling process is just me and a plastic jug, and currently accounts for around 2,000 litres a month. We make cream from the entire evening milk on three nights a week, rising to five in the strawberry season, and make up to 500 litres of ice cream on every week day.
“We’ve experimented with almost everything over the years, but prefer to leave someone else to make butter and yoghurt,” she says.
Admitting to a clear profit per litre of 60p on the milk which is sold in bottles – after the costs of bottling, labelling, health and hygiene testing, attendance at farmers’ markets and all of the extra labour are accounted for – both Peter and Celia believe this is probably 60p more than the milk which is sold through Milk Link, which would struggle to bring any return.
With the farm today extending to around 81ha (200 acres) mostly rented, and still based around the concrete block and corrugated buildings constructed when Celia and Peter first set-up, the couple say they have no plans to give up, despite having passed retirement age.
“Our son, Mark – who does the youngstock, feeding, tractor work and mechanics – is desperate to keep the cows here, and Julie our daughter is production manager who oversees the ice cream, so we are all keen to keep the business going,” says Celia.
“But they are trying to ban raw milk again,” she colludes, referring to ongoing attempts by the ‘powers that be’ to remove the last remaining producers. “But if they do, the people who want it will go to other farmers who don’t go through the same inspections, and persuade them to fill up bottles from their bulk tanks.”
But does she really think it will come to that? “No,” she says. “The Queen and Prince Charles saved us last time. They are great advocates of raw milk and have it shipped up from their herd in Windsor.
“What better advert than The Queen could we have – I am sure she would step in and help to save us again.”
Pros and cons of raw milk
Proponents of raw milk claim human health benefits including:
- Better digestion, including those with ‘lactose intolerance’
- Better nutritionally because amino acids, vitamins and enzymes remain intact
- Better for the immune system
- Retains bacteria which are good for the human body
Opponents of raw milk say:
- There is a potential risk of disease from any pathogenic bacteria which are present in the milk
- It is impossible to eliminate all potential sources of contamination