Inspiring Inclusion in Dairy Farming

Thursday 29th February 2024

This year, for International Women’s Day, Yeo Valley Organic wants to shine a spotlight on its co-founder, Mary Mead, OBE, who recently won the Holstein UK’s Lifetime Achievement Award, for dedicating more than 20 years of service to the dairy industry and British Friesian breed. Below, in her own words, Mary discusses her dairy farming journey…

“It’s been 60 years since my husband Roger and I started our farming career at Holt Farm; 50 years as a yogurt makers and 30 years as an organic brand, I thought it might be interesting to cast my mind back over the changes that dairy farming has experienced during that time.

Holt farm sale advert, 1961.

Did you know that in 1961, when Holt Farm was purchased, milk producers in the UK numbered around 100,000 with an average herd size of 22, but today, 90% of those farms have gone and the average herd of 200 is more commonplace.

In 1961, Roger and I were able to secure the 150-acre Holt Farm in Blagdon, North Somerset. The farm had accommodation for 35 cows and a small milking parlour. We quickly decided that the land, which tended to be wet, didn’t really suit sheep and so we started to increase the number of dairy cows. We also increased the size of our family as Sarah, born in 1962 was joined by Tim in 1963, and Amanda completed our family in 1969.

After nine years, in 1970, we took the opportunity to purchase the neighbouring 40-acre Lag Farm, after arranging further borrowing. We were up to about 150 cows on 200 acres. Later on, we bought Merecombe Farm across the road, this added another 90 acres, but the land needed reclaiming and eventually, we added a milking parlour, where we milked most of the herd in the summer, taking Holt for silage.

Holt Farm in 1961

Using converted buildings at Lag Farm and second-hand equipment bought from a recently defunct milk collection centre, we took the first tentative steps to trial the making of yogurt. As Holt Farm lay beside a busy road, we had also launched into ‘pick your own strawberries and sweetcorn’, growing and selling potatoes as well. We had established a small café with home baked scones and jam, with cream from the dairy herd. Yogurt was the perfect solution for using the skimmed milk that was left over from making cream, although it was still very much a novelty back then. In 1974, we began making yogurt for local shops. As the new enterprise took up more and more of Roger’s time and, as I had always been involved in ‘keeping the books’, this became my prime input for the farm. However, I had become increasingly fascinated by the breeding of British Friesians and this became an all-consuming passion!

Mary & Tim Mead

After Roger died in a farming accident in 1990, I took on the responsibility for the farm as, together with our son Tim, we decided to fulfil his vision for the business. At the time, the farm covered 350 acres and the yogurt business employed 135 people. With the help of Tim joining Yeo Valley, Roger’s existing management team and the talented individuals who have since joined us, the business has grown to formerly unimaginable heights.

The decision to convert the farm to an organic system in 1994 was a logical progression to help us become more self-sufficient and, of course, the success of the Yeo Valley Organic products meant that there was a growing demand for organic milk. However, organic is no easy choice, nor is it quick and it was over eight years before we achieved our organic status across all the land. The use of artificial fertiliser and pesticides is, of course, prohibited and it has been fascinating to observe how well the land and the animals have reacted to the change to a more natural way of farming.

Over the years, it has been a privilege to have seen more women come into the farming industry; noticeably women working with livestock. At Yeo Valley’s own farms, we are fortunate to have equal numbers of women and men working on the farm. It’s been a pleasure to observe an inclusive environment for all, where everyone feels valued and part of a team. What a journey it has been.

To find out more about Mary Mead and Yeo Valley Organic visit:

Comments on “Inspiring Inclusion in Dairy Farming”

  • Fascinating to hear about this journey. Well done for being organic pioneers.

    Pauline on 12th March 2024 at 9:01 am

  • What a truly inspirational story
    Mary – you can’t possible have done all those things – you don’t look old enough !
    Keep that lovely organic yoghurt flowing 👍

    Cathy mckeever on 6th March 2024 at 11:29 pm

  • Well I thought it was like reading of a life’s history. A shared farming dream, nurtured by a young couple full of hopes and dreams. Hard work was no stranger to them, 9to5, no holidays the changing seasons. What’s that mean on a farm, it’s like long days crack dawn mornings.The auction poster may of sold it to them, imagine seeing that view from a window. Don’t suppose landscapes changed that much except dotted with cows now. Along came a little family all the while diversifying with a cafe, PYO & yogurts. You found a passion with Friesian cows,I only hope the above helped you in the tragic loss of your Roger. Family & friends you all pulled together, you took over day to day of farm with Tim. It’s took yrs, well eight to achieve organic status. And no doubt a few sleepless nights over years. Mary your to modest I feel, you say I kept the books but most of all you balanced them. That’s the difference, bit like your in balance with nature. Your husband would be proud of you, like the verdant Holt farm auction on that Wednesday in 61. It’s testamount to you both & your family its unspoilt land as natural now as when you secured it. Good luck to you, that OBE always had your name on it girl

    Alison smith-hodge on 6th March 2024 at 9:28 pm

  • A very interesting & encouraging article.
    It is good to know some farmers still value animal welfare & compassion above profits.
    I hope more farms adopt this approach, but I fear large factory farms are the future.

    Jean Taylor on 6th March 2024 at 7:21 pm

  • I was the local NAAS advisor
    I remember the farm and development and knew Roger well.

    Clive Scott on 6th March 2024 at 5:12 pm

  • What an interesting story. Mary seems to have had talent for a business and care for animals, not to say producing delicious , healthy food.

    May I congratulate her!

    Margaret Dimmick on 6th March 2024 at 4:20 pm

  • Absolutely inspirational story! I so wish we lived nearer!

    Alix Cooper on 6th March 2024 at 2:37 pm

  • Love love all the beautiful things Yeo make I’m a huge fan, knowing it’s all organic gives me peace of mind. Thank you to this wonderful farm and the amazing people behind it all.

    Janette Cornfield on 6th March 2024 at 9:23 am

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