Our pedigree British Friesians are specialists in their field and just like any professional they like to follow a routine.
Luckily for them, it doesn’t start with a queue for the bus or a long commute. Instead, these girls open their eyes to the rolling Mendip Hills, fresh pasture and Blagdon Lake at the bottom of the field.
The British Friesian breed is perfect for these conditions – they are built strong and sturdy to cope with the sometimes heavy ground of our lakeside farm. They produce excellent milk from a simple grass-based diet. They calve easily and tend to enjoy much better health than other dairy breeds, and they also produce excellent beef. Up before the sun, they start their day at around 4am – long before your alarm clock goes off!
Cows are very sociable animals and like to stay together; they hang out with their friends and come in for milking in more or less the same order every day. Our herds are deliberately kept on the smaller side so that the herd manger will know each cow as an individual – this means if a cow comes in far from her friends in the morning then they need to take a look at her and make sure she is okay. Milking begins at around 5am and cows come into the parlour in groups of 20, with each group taking about 10 minutes to milk.
90% of our cows’ diet comes from the farm that they live on, even in the winter. During the colder months their diet contains added extras to make up for the fact the grass isn’t growing. The grass from our farm is harvested in the summer, then pickled to create silage, sort of like cow sauerkraut. They have a wide selection of forages specially selected to ensure that they have all the nutrients that they need all throughout the year.
Our soil is our pride and joy – we seed nitrogen-fixing plants like clover and birdsfoot trefoil; they improve the soil, and our cow’s diets. Chicory which is high in protein and extremely deep rooting; yarrow, a tasty herb that has historically been used for its health giving properties and timothy, a traditional grass species can all be found growing well in our fields too. The fields are planted with a mix of over 15 types of plant all of which work in harmony to give the cows the very best homegrown diet. All of the plants are carefully considered to encourage diversity and health, in both our soils and our cows. Just like the meals served at the Yeo Valley Canteen, the fewer food miles, the better!
After milking, the cows will wander outside where they love to spend most of their day. Organic cows have a forage-based diet, meaning that they graze in the fields for most of the year. The Soil Association, who certify organic farms, inspect each farm annually to make sure that these standards are met. Healthy soil means healthy land, and healthy land grows healthy crops to feed our cows, so that they can produce nutritious milk all year round.
Having munched through grass and herbs all day, drunk about a bathtub of water and roamed the fields, at 4.30pm our ladies are ready for milking again. If you’re standing at the bottom of the farm at this time, you’ll see the majestic herd parade from the fields to the milking parlour in their full glory – it’s quite a spectacle!
Over the course of the year, our cows have a milking cycle of 305 days, each producing up to 7,500 litres of milk a year. During the summer months, they’ll spend their nights outside under the stars. However, the herd likes rain and cold about as much as we do, so as temperatures begin to drop, grass stops growing and fields become wet we tend to bring them inside. Winter quarters have plenty of fresh air and the cows are protected from the winter elements. Their indoor beds are mattresses, made of a special rubber to make them especially soft and comfortable. Happy, comfortable cows produce higher yields of quality milk!
The Yeo Valley farmers are working tirelessly to develop a sustainable way of managing the farm that is beyond just Organic – making sure that all of their animals have a good and healthy life. As winter approaches, you’ll often see the farm team out in the fields, re-balancing the nutrients and the structure in the soil through soil slitting and the addition of natural manure, gypsum and kieserite. The conservation team work to maintain the landscape using traditional methods like hedge laying and dry stone walling, providing habitats to all kinds of wildlife too. Organic farms host 50% more wildlife and 30% more species on average.
Running a mixed farm means that we have access to a variety of things and there is an on-going progression to make Holt Farms more self-sufficient, reducing its carbon footprint. Early 2014 saw the completion of the biggest energy project yet as our dairy roof was replaced with 1 acre of solar PV panels fixed to the South facing elevations. For the first time we were able to say that we create more electricity that we use!
If you’d like to find out more about the Yeo Valley herd, click here to go to the ‘Our Cows’ page.