Berkeley Farm Dairy began in 1908 with my husband Nick’s grandfather delivering milk from his dairy herd by horse and cart to customers in Wroughton and Swindon. The farm is now fourth generation, with our son Edward as farm manager. We have 120 Guernsey cows and process our own milk. We supply Abel & Cole (an organic box delivery service), Neal’s Yard Dairy, and local shops and restaurants with milk, cream and butter.
The dairy has recently been extended to enable us to increase production and also offer a service for processing milk for small businesses, and we have very recently achieved the high SALSA accreditation.
The farm will also be going through an upgrade this summer with a new parlour and infrastructure to accommodate up to 180 cows in the future. We are determined to achieve this without losing our ethos in producing high quality products from happy, healthy cows.
To provide the correct balance of food for the cows I rely on an observational technique called ‘Obsalim‘ which was developed by Dr Bruno Giboudeau, a French vet. He recognised that a large number of feed-related symptoms in cows, goats and sheep could be interpreted as being an accurate reflection of the digestion of their ration. I helped initiate and take part in the Innovative Farmers ‘Observation Techniques’ field lab focusing on Obsalim, the first meeting for which was held at Berkeley Farm. Obsalim is based on a series of symptom cards that the farmer can use to make a diagnosis of an imbalance in the ration. As well as preventing or resolving any health issues, this system can also help to reduce food wastage and increase yields and therefore profit.
However, we and the cows do not live in a perfect world! Unavoidable stressful situations in the farming year such as calving, weaning, dehorning, and TB testing may cause some animals to succumb to illness and, of course, there may be some injuries or accidents. At these times I would rather use alternative treatments that are safe for the cow, the environment, the consumer, the person administering it, and are financially viable.
For fresh calvers, mastitis and high cell count treatment, I use uddermint, the benefits of which I learnt when I participated in a field lab aiming to reduce the use of antibiotics on the dairy farm. This is a liniment cream containing peppermint oil that can help stimulate the cows own defence mechanism and also soothes the swollen udder. (I now use one that contains other beneficial essential oils, tea tree, eucalyptus and calendula). The conclusion of the field lab trial of uddermint was that it could act as a complimentary on-farm practice to reduce mastitis incidences and cell counts when used on newly calved cows.
My preferred method of prevention and treatment of illnesses is homoeopathy, which I learnt on the Homoeopathy At Wellie Level course and further online courses. Although many sceptics do not agree, I believe that homoeopathy is a logical and honest way of preventing and treating illnesses and injuries. I have witnessed many amazing results from using it for mastitis, calving difficulties, infertility, injuries and behavioural or emotional problems (eg heifers not letting their milk down, kicking units off, fear etc.).
It does take a bit of time and effort to learn and gain confidence in using, but it is well worth it. If I don’t feel confident with a case that I know would respond well to homoeopathy, I call my homoeopathic vet. I do respect the use of conventional medicines in life or death situations but I believe that homoeopathy offers a gentler, less invasive treatment that treats the whole cow and the cause of the illness rather than just removing the symptoms, and has no side effects.
Both Obsalim and homoeopathy have taught me to really observe my cows. They are sensitive individuals who work so hard for us, we should respect them and respond to the signals that they show us.
I am from a non-farming background, I spent my childhood as an army officer’s daughter, living in many exciting countries (and not so exciting boarding schools), but I always felt drawn to nature, farming and, especially, caring for animals. I wanted to become a vet from the age of 12, but my grasp of chemistry and physics let me down. So at 17 I applied for a Dairy Technology course at Seale Hayne Agricultural College, where I met my husband Nick and eventually came to live at Berkeley Farm. I started rearing the calves and doing the relief milking and soon realised that this was where I was meant to be.
I really believe that concentrating on the health of the farm and the animals is the way to achieve a successful and sustainable business. Providing the cows with the correct balance of nutritional food from healthy soils will ensure that they have strong immune systems and, therefore reduce the need for any medicines.
Our customers can be assured that our products are safe, free from antibiotic residues and come from animals that have been managed in a caring and holistic manner.
Our greatest achievement is that we are the only remaining producer retailer out of the original 26 in this area that have survived the precarious ups and downs of the dairy industry. I feel proud that we have accomplished this as a family, including valuable input from our daughter Sarah who now teaches anatomy to students at Bristol University. I hope that Nick’s grandfather would be proud of us!
Photo credit: Russell Sach