Carlton’s Cow Cube
Creamier, sweeter milk from grazing Ouse Valley cows
Driving between Carlton and Turvey some months ago I came across the ‘Cow Cube’ just beyond the church, purely by chance, and stopped to investigate. With a five-star hygiene rating, it stocks fresh pasteurised milk (full, semi and skimmed) and double cream - a wonderful find. Just put your money in the tin! This idyllic rural setting is Church Farm, home to a herd of 200 Friesian and Jersey cross cows. There are now only ten dairy farms in Bedfordshire and two are in Carlton.
The venture has an interesting history beginning when Roger and Rosemary Davis moved from Luton in 1965 to start farming with eight cows, two pigs, a few chickens and 50 acres. Richard and Debbie joined the business in the late 80s, and now James and Ellie, the third generation, have joined the team.
By 2010 the herd had grown to 110 high-yielding Holsteins but the concentrated feed they needed included wheat, soya, and palm oil products which were expensive and had to be transported. Moreover this food can, and probably should, be eaten by people. So a difficult decision was made to part with most of the Holsteins and replace them with the Friesian/Jersey crosses which eat grass in the fields (not an alternative food source for humans!). They produce less milk per cow but the milk is creamier and sweeter. Studies suggest it contains far more omega-3 (desirable) and far less omega-6 (undesirable) than intensively produced milk. Animals reared outside are healthier so need fewer antibiotics. Dairy products from grass-fed cows now seem to be commanding a premium in the US.
Given English winters, from late November the cows are under shelter and are bedded down on locally grown wheat straw, but with access to the outside. The problem is mud which can cause foot rot. For these two to three months the cows are fed silage from maize grown on the farm, another saving on transport costs and so a gain for the environment. The herd usually frolics out to the meadows in early March.The current herd of cows is longer lived at ten to twelve years than the Holsteins at seven years and less prone to illness. Cows can produce their first calf at two years old, and the herd breeds its own replacements.
Tina is ‘simply the best’ as a Tina Turner impressionist and Tiger, who has a dash of Swedish red, has a striped coat like watered silk. They are not all named but James and Richard who work with the cows every day can recognise them all as individuals.
The rich soil of the Ouse river meadows with sun and rain produces green pastures beside what are usually still waters. The river does flood but silt carried down to the meadows brings more nutrients and of course the cows produce their own brand of fertiliser for the fields. Cows are social animals and very calming to watch browsing or sitting chewing the cud. Admittedly, getting up for milking at 6am on a winter’s morning wouldn’t be, but anyone working with farm animals is directly in touch with the seasons and the natural world.
I was able to watch the cows walking sedately across the fields to be milked, which they usually do in the same order; there was no noise, no shoving, and the first arrival was waiting quietly at the door of the milking parlour when I left. Time your purchase for 3.30pm and you’ll be able to see what is a rarer and rarer sight.
If you listen to The Archers the pasture-based system will be familiar to you. That’s because Ouse Valley Dairy, which did it first, was phoned at Christmas to get the programme’s facts right.
The dairy has the potential for other milk products - butter, cheese and yoghurt. Customers have made their own butter and a variety of cheeses from the milk and cream. I make smoothies with fruit (strawberries and raspberries are good) and junket is also very quick to make, though it needs setting time.
Ouse Valley Dairy was a Finalist in the Best Newcomer category of the prestigious Bedfordshire Good Food and Drink Awards in June 2016. Debbie says, “Our lovely ‘Cube’ customers voted online for us although the ‘Cube’ was very new when the votes were taken, and we can be nominated in this category next year as it is for businesses under two years old”. Let’s hope for deserved success next year.
Used at Emmaus, and available at a number of north Bedfordshire outlets including Hill Farm Shop in Sharnbrook and Scald End Farm in Thurleigh, my own milk and cream supplies are now within walking distance at Browns of Stagsden.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Unfortunately the price paid to farmers by processors for milk is less than the cost of production and from nearly 15,000 dairy farms ten years ago figures have slumped to 9,500. About half the milk produced goes to manufacture milk powder, butter, yoghurt and cheese, which have a long shelf life. These can be exported but there is a global glut of dairy products. Russia has banned agricultural imports from the EU and oil-exporting countries have less money to spend on British cheese products.
After the war in 1946 free milk (one-third of a pint) was given to schoolchildren under 18. Research had linked low income and poor nutrition to underachievement and milk was identified as a key food to alleviate the problem. This was famously ended in 1971. At a time when dairy farmers are struggling and some children (albeit sometimes obese) in deprived areas are again suffering from poor nutrition, it would seem an obvious idea to re-introduce milk in schools.
Ouse Valley Dairy
Church Farm, Turvey Road, Carlton, Bedford MK43 7LH
Call 07796 446896
Visit www.ousevalleydairy.com for more information and to find your local stockists.
This review was written by Ann Hagen and first appeared in the AugSep16 edition of OVL Magazine.