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”

  • Being new to Yeo Valley and its products I’m finding it a wonderful, and welcoming, change to the now current way dairy products and such like are presented to us. I am a great believer in “Family run businesses” and all small farming shops etc. They tend to bring the best out of the British traders and are the back bone to this country.. Keep up the terrific work you do and I hope to be able to visit Yeo Valley in the near future..
    Best Regards
    Stuart Batchelor

    Stuart Batchelor on 1st July 2020 at 5:47 pm

  • Very interesting indeed. I wish your farm well for the future.

    Anonymous on 1st July 2020 at 5:46 pm

  • What a lovely report to read. We think we are lucky here on Jersey – such a beautiful island, and beautiful cows as well!! However, your valley sounds like another one of the best possible places to spend lockdown and actually enjoy it – thank you.

    Mo Beach-Morris on 1st July 2020 at 4:30 pm

  • Hello Mary, I really enjoy reading all about the business, we are also dairy farmers in Cumbria with a herd of Holstein fresians and understand the unpredictable nature of the farming year, as I say everyday is a surprise!
    We both love your yoghurt especially the lemon curd so thanks Very much

    Anonymous on 1st July 2020 at 4:17 pm

  • Credit to this farming family , who keep going through thick and thin . Well done

    Anonymous on 1st July 2020 at 3:50 pm

  • I have been using this site for as long as I can remember. I have appreciated every moment of interesting content as well as trying to win something of interest! I shall keep on trying as long as I am able.
    Mary Addiscott (87!)

    Mary Addiscott on 1st July 2020 at 3:30 pm

  • Great site and offer

    Jonathan Deakin on 1st July 2020 at 3:11 pm

  • Lovely scene of all 35 cows.

    Anonymous on 1st July 2020 at 2:56 pm

  • Good to hear all is well with the farms! The photo reminded me of my grandfather who had a small herd of freesias too:)

    Catherine on 1st July 2020 at 1:45 pm

  • I found the information very interesting and look forward to reading more. Good luck with the weather and keep up the good work.

    Anonymous on 1st July 2020 at 12:41 pm

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