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”

  • It is lovely to read all the comments. My uncle made the decision to leave UK just before Christmas 1951 at 25, to take my mother, auntie, grandmother and her elderly parents to Australia to farm. Although he had jerseys, surrounded by other people who had fresians, he made a life for himself just milking cows until 2002 when it broke all our hearts when, because of prostate cancer, he had to sell his, too, registered herd he had built up, with help from my sister in the latter years. I still miss him and the farm. I used to go almost every weekend as a child. Some wonderful memories. Now I live here and have visited what was the family farm in Kilmeston Hampshire.
    We are loving the products and your wonderful website.
    Annie Chamberlain

    Anonymous on 20th August 2020 at 7:22 am

  • Really interesting. Thank you.

    Clare Headlam on 20th July 2020 at 11:55 am

  • I found this very interesting but couldn’t find anything there to tell me how many cows you have now.

    Anonymous on 4th July 2020 at 3:22 pm

  • It was really interesting to read how Covid-19 has affected farms and farming. Somehow I had not even thought about them being affected. Thank you

    Anonymous on 4th July 2020 at 9:06 am

  • Lovely to keep in touch through this heartfelt and informative message. Thank you Mary, stay safe, we look forward to being able to visit again soon 🙂

    Anonymous on 3rd July 2020 at 11:06 am

  • interesting.
    keep up the good work!
    love your products.

    Anonymous on 3rd July 2020 at 10:58 am

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