Season’s greetings! Warning - the newsletter is slightly longer than usual this month, but we felt we had a lot of important things to say, so you may want to make yourself a cuppa before starting. Back to normal next month!
At the moment it can feel as if all we ever hear is bad news, so we’re delighted to have some good news for you. After a bit of a long break, we now have two new calves, with Ivy calving first, followed two weeks later by new-girl Mary. Both mothers and calves are doing well, although we did have a bit of a scare when Mary’s calf made his appearance. James was delighted to notice the new arrival as he set out for his early morning milk round last Friday, only to discover, upon his return, that the calf had vanished from the barn. After several hours of frantic searching among the piles of hay we had begun to wonder if the fox could possibly have taken him…we’ve never had this happen but we didn’t know what else to think. Just when we had all given up hope, we heard a shout from Robert….“I’ve found him”…and there he was - lurking under the tractor! A good job Robert saw him before driving off!
Our second bit of truly excellent news is that we finally went completely clear on our recent TB test… long may it last! We have lost too many lovely cows to this horrible disease and hope that the government’s vaccine trials lead to a future in which we don’t have to live permanently under its shadow.
Thirdly, with the mild winter, the cows are still managing to enjoy a little time outdoors as well as keeping snug in their barn at night or in bad weather. We’ll keep encouraging them out on dry days for as long as the weather and the state of the ground allow.
Fourthly, many of you have commented on how good the yoghurt has been tasting recently, and we agree! We think this is largely down to the extra Ayrshire cows who produce creamier, more flavoursome milk. As we move back towards a fully Ayrshire herd, the flavour is only likely to get better. If you haven’t tried our natural yoghurt yet, now is a good time to order a jar!
And finally, the vet came this week and confirmed that all of the cows we were hoping to be in calf, including two of our home-bred heifers, Hope and Treasure, were indeed in calf. Hooray!
A few bits of housekeeping...
Our delivery schedules will be slightly different on December 27th and 30th, with both deliveries taking place in the afternoon, between 1 and 4 pm. Please don’t forget to email us to pause your order if you’re going to be away over Christmas. Alternatively, if you’re planning on having family and friends over and wish to increase your order, please give us plenty of notice.
Sue at Forge House will be taking her Christmas break from the 24th Dec until 9th Jan, so no bread deliveries between those dates.
Our egg supplies do not seem to have been affected by the national shortage, however our supplier has increased his prices, so the new egg price, from the beginning of this month, will be £2.30 per half dozen.
We hope that before Christmas we will be able to offer you cuts of our own lamb, so look out for that email, with more beef to follow early in the New Year. There is also plenty of mince in the freezer from our recently retired dairy cow, plus a few steaks.
Because we have been relatively short of milk over the last few months, we have not been able to make more batches of our ice cream and are now down to a small amount of raspberry and a handful of jars of mint choc chip. However, since we have simultaneously been developing a cream stockpile, we’ve made a small experimental batch of chocolate ice cream using a different recipe with a much higher proportion of cream. It’s not exactly the same but we think it still tastes great so please do give it a try, especially if you are a chocoholic!
Nick has been beavering away for months on our new website alongside all his other jobs and it should be ready to go live in the New Year at www.northastondairy.co.uk. Watch out for more details in your next newsletter. In the meantime, if you are on Instagram, please do come and find us… @northastondairy.
Taking the dairy forward…
It’s now been two years since Josh handed over the running of the dairy and it has been quite an adventure! We have learnt an incredible amount and are growing in confidence, although it still seems to throw up new challenges on an almost daily basis! We are very grateful for your ongoing support, whether you’re a new customer or signed up for Matt’s original delivery round back in 2006 with his first three Ayrshire cows. We hope that seeing our bottle on your doorstep each week, fresh from our girls, gives you a sense of connection to the land.
Since its inception, North Aston Dairy has aimed to provide an affordable, sustainable, and delicious alternative to the industrially-produced, homogeneous milk you find in the supermarkets. Our lovely little herd of cows live long, healthy lives and we strive to farm in a way that enables wildlife to thrive, while providing rewarding livelihoods for our small, dedicated team. We still only deliver to a handful of nearby villages as we believe a truly resilient food system means local food for local people. We are strongly committed to these principles that have kept the dairy going for the past 15 years.
However, in recent months, as inflation has soared, we’ve been forced to take a very close look at the costs of producing, processing and distributing our milk and other products. While we are doing everything we can to keep our operating costs down and our produce affordable, it has become clear that we cannot continue to provide our milk at current prices without sacrificing the values we hold so dear.
From January, we will be making some changes to our pricing, and will be sending out another email in the next few weeks with the details, so please keep an eye out for that.
In the meantime, we have some questions for you that will really help us in our decision-making, as we work out how best to take the dairy forward. If you can please spare some time to fill in this short-ish survey (ideally no later than December 11th), we would be extraordinarily grateful. We really value your custom and will read and consider all feedback carefully. The survey is anonymous so please speak freely! At the end of the survey, all respondents will have the opportunity to enter a prize draw to be in with a chance of winning a free month’s supply of milk.
Forage for the future
For some time, as a team, we have been thinking and talking about moving to a 100% pasture-based diet for our cows. Historically, the herd’s diet has been supplemented with bought-in organic concentrated feed. This provides extra energy and protein and has helped maintain fairly consistent yields during difficult times. The cows also look forward to the tasty treat as they come into the parlour to be milked! However, cows are grazing animals by nature and their rumens aren’t really designed to digest grains and soya (which the feed contains). So, while concentrates helpfully boost milk production in the short term, we think it would be healthier for our cows in the long term if they were eating only grass and other pasture plants.
We also feel strongly that as cows have evolved to be such efficient converters of grass into nutritious food (both milk and meat), there should be no need to feed them grain and soya, which could instead be fed directly to humans. On top of this, we’ve felt uncomfortable supporting - albeit in a very small way - the environmentally disastrous soya production industry, and importing protein grown on the other side of the world doesn’t fit very well with our vision of a resilient, regenerative, local food system.
So, we have taken the plunge and for the past couple of months the cows have been fully pasture-fed: fresh forage out in the fields, hay & silage in the barn, and lucerne pellets in the parlour. While we will be producing less milk per cow going forward, we are confident that the milk will be higher quality, the cows healthier, and the business more sustainable. To find out more about the many benefits of pasture-fed produce, visit https://www.pastureforlife.org/why-pasture/
Alongside this change in the parlour, we’ve been paying more attention to the condition of our soils and pastures. For the past year, we’ve been experimenting with a slightly different method of grazing that again prioritises long-term health and resilience over short term needs. Rather than just seeking to sustain the health of the land we depend upon (as most organic farmers do) we are now focused on actively improving it….letting the grass grow taller, not grazing it as short, and giving it longer to recover between grazings, therefore allowing the plants to capture as much sunlight as possible, pumping carbon into the soil, feeding the soil organisms that in return provide the plants (and the cows, and eventually you) with the essential micronutrients they need. We’ve only taken baby steps this year, but are already seeing signs that we are moving in the right direction, and are very excited by our plans for next season. Watch this space!