Visit to The Home Farmer

Friday 8 March, 2019, by Karen Griffiths

We’ve already written about the rather wonderful prospect of a milk vending machine returning to Wensleydale courtesy of Ben & Adam Spence of ‘The Home Farmer‘ so we were delighted to be invited over to their farm near Aysgarth earlier this week to have a tour and discuss how the Dairy Days project might work with them.

The horsebox with the vending machine was off being branded up but we did see samples of the various milk bottles they’ve had designed to go into it. We love the glass one, which people can reuse over and over again. The intention is to move the unit from village to village up the dale on a rota system – we’ll post details once they are firmed up.

The Home Farmer milk bottle samples

The Home Farmer milk bottle samples

After a cup of coffee (with home produced milk in it of course) we braved the weather and went out to meet the cows in their winter quarters, a brand new big shed – light and airy with comfy foam mattresses for them to lie on – a big difference to the dark stone barns of the past with their flagged or cobbled stalls.

Foddering cows in a field barn. Unknown date. Collection Dales Countryside Museum

Foddering cows in a field barn. Unknown date. Collection Dales Countryside Museum

Once the weather warms up Ben’s cows will be out grazing the lush green pastures we could see all around the farm but for the moment, they looked very content to be out of the rain and wind.

The Home Farmer's cows

The Home Farmer’s cows

Most of them were too busy chilling to say hello, but Ben’s favourite, Nancy, came over to see if we had any spare treats on us.

Meeting Nancy the cow

Meeting Nancy the cow

We then went on to see the high tech milking parlour, passing through the old herring-bone one on the way. The cows apparently took some getting used to being milked straight on to the machines instead of at an angle as in the herring-bone system.

We passed the cooling system, first water-cooled then through an ice cabinet which means that when the milk finally enters the bulk tank, it has an incredibly low bacteria count – essential for the next stages of the process.

We thought the comparison between Ben’s modern cooling system and the old water-filled cooler that David Hodgson‘s predecessors at Lowland’s Farm relied on was remarkable.

The cooled milk then either goes to the Wensleydale Creamery or into the farm’s pasteurising equipment which is all pretty much in place and ready to go – the milk tank for the vending machine is being measured up for its plinth in the photo as Ben is explaining to us – the pallet is only temporary!.

Pasteurising equipment with vending machine tank being measured up

Pasteurising equipment with vending machine tank being measured up

Finally, and perhaps the most exciting part of the whole visit, was seeing the new cheese-making equipment some of which has been funded through our very own Sustainable Development Fund. Ben and Adam will soon be making raw  milk (unpasteurised) Wensleydale cheese on the farm with help from the experts at the Wensleydale Creamery. It will be the first commercial farmhouse Wensleydale cheese actually made in Wensleydale, from cows eating Wensleydale grass, since the Second World War as far as we can tell.

Ben Spence and the cheese vat

Ben Spence and the cheese vat ready to go

Once made and pressed, the cheese will mature on traditional wooden shelves in a purpose built store. They’re just waiting on the wooden shelving to be fitted.

The Home Farmer cheese maturing room, just waiting for the wooden shelves

The Home Farmer cheese maturing room, just waiting for the wooden shelves

Again, we loved the contrast with photographs we have of traditional cheese shelving in Dales farmhouses in days gone by.

Farmhouse dairy. Collection Dales Countryside Museum

Cheese maturing on shelf in an unknown farmhouse dairy. Collection Dales Countryside Museum

We left feeling incredibly inspired by this brand new business using the best modern technology to revive part of Wensleydale’s dairying heritage. Once the milk vending unit is up and running we hope to be able to offer them some relevant Dairy Days interpretation to go with it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Picture of Karen Griffiths

Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

Website: www.yorkshiredales.org.uk

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