Yeo Valley organic cows grazing on grass in the valley field

Farming through lockdown

Monday 15th June 2020

Mary Mead
Mary Mead with Lakemead Deborah 34

Mary Mead, co-founder has been farming at Holt Farm, Blagdon, since 1961. Starting out with just 35 cows her life’s work is looking after her British Friesians, where they thrive on the Valley’s rich, green pastures.  

Mary shares what it’s been like farming through the Covid-19 pandemic… 


Agriculture is driven by three over-riding factors – the seasons, the prevailing weather, and politicians. All can prove extremely fickle. 

Farmers must work within these constraints, the weather being the most challenging, and usually the first topic in any conversation. But every so often, nature throws an extra ‘spanner in the works’ and of course, Covid19 is the latest one and on a dimension unimaginable. 

Since 1961, we have had to contend with two ‘lock-down’ situations when outbreaks of Foot and Mouth disease threatened. Obviously not as serious as the current situation. The infection was carried by vehicle and so isolation was necessary as the worry that valuable breeding stock or even one’s livelihood would be lost, was very real. 

Although somewhat surreal, life on the farms continues, with the gift of an early Spring, so welcome after such a prolonged period of rain. Our aim is to be as self-sufficient in organic feed as possible, we grow crops for grain in a rotation with grass and nitrogen-fixing clover leys. This provides energy, protein and fibre which we need to balance their food. We usually grow some Spring sown barley or oats and had more to drill this year, as did many others. We now need to see what the weather does for us. Our first cut of grass for silage is slightly lighter due to the recent lack of rain. This is the next challenge for much of the UK, with so many hectares down to Spring sown crops.  

Being organic, we do not use artificial fertilizer. All the manure from the cattle sheds in the winter is separated and the solids composted for applying to arable crops. The separated liquid, still high in nutrients, is injected into the grass for another cut of silage in approximately 6 weeks. The practice of grazing animals, manuring the soil, and the process of photosynthesis has been in place for millennia. This natural cycle of carbon capture, utilizing grass, is highly effective and needs to be better understood. Although not much has changed for us as we respond to seasons and weather, we should not forget the part that digital technology now plays. Distance meetings with other members of Yeo Valley take place online. We swiftly re-organised staffing levels to comply with social distancing, while keeping up with the production demand. It’s at times like these that we are reminded how fortunate we are to be independent and family run. 

My main disappointment is the cancellation, for the time being, of the Classification service provided by the Breed Society. All our British Friesians are registered under the Lakemead Prefix and we have full pedigree records going back through the generations. We have recently registered the 247th Barbara! We hope to see the Classifiers back on farms as soon as possible 

What ‘lock-down’ has given us is the precious gift of time. Time to appreciate this stunning valley and surrounding countryside, and time to reflect also on the future direction of food production. We need to combine efficiency together with long-term sustainability.  

Comments on “Farming through lockdown”

  • Dear Mary,
    How lovely to see a picture of you when I opened an email just now. I’ve followed the amazing development of Yeo Valley over the years from my beautiful spot in the Scottish Borders and I think of you often as I buy my yoghurt. I do hope you are well.
    Recently discovered that Brian McGuirk who is married to a friend of mine has enjoyed lively discussions with you on the subject of cattle on occasions!
    I’m hoping someone will kindly pass this on to you as I don’t imagine it will go directly to you.

    Take care.

    Ann (Ricky) Cook nee Erickson on 1st July 2020 at 12:36 pm

  • Beautifully written explanation of Yeo Valley’s experience during the pandemic. I’m more aware now of the variety of planning and practice that goes into my delicious yoghurt!

    Dee Mansi on 1st July 2020 at 11:54 am

  • I’m a country man & live on the edge of the Cotswolds at the foot of Bredon Hill. The farm / estate that farm my area is Overbury Farm enterprise. With hill top & sides down to arable crops wheat Barley peas, beans & sheep & lambs.
    As a young boy I worked on a local farm 100 acres milking calving mucking out ploughing to haymaking & loved it. I grew up started off as agriculture apprentice engineer to ending up as chief engineer on African diamond & gold mines mostly in civil war areas. Back home 14yrs & retired, farming & the early love of it gave me a true sense & value of hard work in all weathers, all things sustainable, animal welfare & husbandry & total appreciation of our great countryside.
    I visited Blagdon & Yeo Valley a few years ago & fell in love all over again with the rich green valley you are so proud off. To me is a complete gem of true English countryside & products produced from it.

    Peter O’Gorman on 1st July 2020 at 11:01 am

  • How nice to hear Mary,s story. And her comments about the gift of time ,especially in these difficult days.

    Dini Boeve-Thomas on 1st July 2020 at 10:28 am

  • We are priviledged to live in the Yeo Valley with our home grown farming industries. Yeo Valley is top of the list but we can add Butcome Brewery to it and Aldwick vineyard. We are so lucky!

    Anonymous on 1st July 2020 at 10:17 am

  • So wonderful to read all about your natural way of farming. So very inspiring. Congratulations. It is a great achievement to be continuing to farm in this natural way. I am sure you are all learning with Nature. Thank you.

    Araura Berkeley on 1st July 2020 at 10:04 am

  • Thank you Mary,
    Your passion shines through and really interesting. I am really concerned about the changes the Government might planning, but have signed every petition I have seen, Our British Famers are so precious – especially the Organic ones xx

    sally Taylor on 1st July 2020 at 9:54 am

  • It was so lovely to hear the latest farm news from Mary. We came on a farm tour day for my birthday last July and are hoping to do a garden day this year (if allowed). I do believe those of us fortunate to live in a rural area have had more time to appreciate the benefits of country living over the last few months and reconnect with nature. A definite plus in very uncertain times. Thank you for all your lovely products.

    Anonymous on 1st July 2020 at 9:53 am

  • Excellent, makes easy reading as jargon free,even a hardened city dweller could appreciate the hard work combined with the rewards of organic farming

    Jane Sadleir on 1st July 2020 at 9:47 am

  • Always good to hear words of wisdom from the matriarch of the friesian breed

    Sam Howarth on 30th June 2020 at 1:43 pm

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