FAQ WITH JESS

What’s the size of the farm and how many cows do you have?


Our Farm is 225 acres-located just between the Gloucester sharpness canal and the river Severn. It is a very pretty place with lots of hedgerows, ancient orchards and woodland. We milk 70 cows (who we refer to as the ladies!)all of whom we care for ourselves on a daily basis.




Why is it so important to you to be organic?


‘Hardwicke Farm’ is a gorgeous, timeless place of traditionally rotated and farmed pasture intermingled with woodland, oak trees, orchards and endless ancient hedgerows. My Grampy John Vaughan first came here in 1956. It has always been farmed in a traditional, extensive way, even though we have witnessed many agricultural changes, not least in recent times-and we would hate to see that change. One thing has always remained constant is our utmost respect for the cows. This respect allows us to make our living and protect the land that allows us to care for them. The ladies are not pushed in their production and are encouraged to exhibit natural behaviour as much as possible. This echoes through in the farmland and we like to think that the stock, wildlife and our farming all complement one another in a very harmonious and balanced way. Getting full organic status in 2000 was intended to allow us to get a premium for our produce, allowing us to remain as the small family farm I have described, rather than turning to economies of scale and more intensive commercial production. Unfortunately, just as we got our official certificate the organic market entered huge oversupply, meaning we supplied organic milk to the conventional market- after 6 years of this the future looked very bleak. So we did something slightly unusual and start bottling our own milk on site and tell the story of our ladies and farm direct to the public and create our own brand to do so. It has been a huge amount of hard work and a steep learning curve-but our farm is still the same gorgeous place and are ladies still very happy.
Organic farming has no quick fixes - it is about keeping things simple and maintaining the intricate balances of the farm in a natural, cyclical way. We make use of some of natures clever systems of building and maintaining soil fertility and helping crops prosper by natural means. It is so easy to detrimentally damage such finely tuned ecosystems through external inputs of farming-and we are very careful not to do this.




What else makes you stand out from other dairy farms?


There are lots of amazing dairy farmers out there. We are very proud of our beautiful cows, the ladies, many of whom live to an amazing age-until recently we owned one of the oldest milking cows in the country, Katie, who was 21! Our ladies do not have their first calf until they are fully mature at 3 years old ,which we believe contributes a lot to our average herd age being over three times the national average. We are also very protective of our farm and its wildlife-it is timeless and beautiful, and we will do anything to keep it that way. That said, it is very productive-but it is all about keeping things in balance. I guess our biggest asset is our on farm bottling plant, allowing us to reach the shelf with our milk, cream and yoghurt by lunchtime after the morning's milking. It does not get any fresher, and has allowed us to take amazing dairy produce direct from our gorgeous farm to the public-and tell them the story of that through our brand. It is hugely different from just farming though-bottling milk you suddenly are chucked into a direct retail, marketing life-which as farmers we are very sheltered from. I love that side though, and people are genuinely interested in what we do-we get daily emails and letters saying how much our produce is enjoyed.




Tell me more about your cows and calves


Looking after our Ladies and every animal here is the reason we do what we do, and we take huge pride in doing the best we can. Always having access to the outdoors, even in winter, and having backscratchcers, adlib food, entertainment, and interaction with their friends is paramount. Our ladies live in a small herd who are moved around the farm between pasture, housing and milkings as one social bunch. Every cow has her own personality, and we milk them, move them and tend them every day. They know us and we know them very well.

Our Ladies do not have their first calf until they are fully mature themselves, at around 3 years old. Our bulls who live onsite are called Curly and Diesel (they can be regularly found featuring on our social media pages!). Our ladies are not pushed in their production, leading a forage based organic lifestyle, and an extended lactation is encouraged, with no need for calving annually. These factors we believe contribute to why our ladies live a very long time-up to 3-4 times the national average age for a dairy cow. We think of them more as business partners and pets. Similar to which, decisions are made based more on animal welfare than commercial gain-I have many retired elderly ladies at the farm.

Our Calves, both male and female, are all welcomed and all treated equally. They are raised alongside one another as brothers and sisters on organic milk for 4-6 months until they themselves start to favour the hay and nuts they will always have had available to them. Slowly they start to wean themselves onto a more adult diet, as their rumen develops and they mature-avoiding any stress or sudden changes. Our nurse cows (who are our ladies who are particularly fond of motherhood) help us raise our calves under our watchful eye.
After being raised on milk, our boys go to live their lives on another farm in the village, in their social group, avoiding markets. Their welfare is important to us and it is important to know that they will enjoy good long lives being cared for by a friend we know personally. After 2-3 years they will eventually be taken to a local slaughterhouse by him-avoiding excessive travelling. For so long as people eat meat, it is our responsibility to ensure every day of that animal's life is a good one-and it is up to consumers to source their meat from as ethical sources as they have available. Our boys are always treated with respect and have good lives, never travelling far. Meanwhile, the little ladies are growing up on the farm, with their kindergarten years being spent at a leisurely pace at pasture until they themselves join the herd as fully mature 3-year-olds.




Why do supermarkets homogenise milk? And why don’t you?


We do not homogenise our milk because we want our milk to be as natural as possible and taste amazing! Being bottled onsite and on shelf within 4hours of leaving our ladies we have no need for any shelf-life extension. Many people comment our milk is like milk from their childhood, with a cream line(if that is what you like!) and flavour that changes with the pastures and times of year. Even our processing plant is gravity fed-meaning that the milk is not damaged by excessive pumps or processing. It is far more than just the white stuff! Homogenisation was developed to benefit the milk processor not the consumer, whereas pasteurisation was developed to protect consumers against pathogenic bacteria. It is homogenising that makes milk taste bland and not full of flavour as it should do-being developed so that dairy produce lasts longer. Being an inherently short life product creates problems when you are trying to shift large volumes of milk many miles, to many different factories-then onto shops, as is now common place in the mainstream supply chain. Consumers want and expect a long life product, and as it realistically takes a while to reach the shelf, the only way is to alter it so it lasts longer.
Homogenising reduces the fat particles, by forcing the milk through very fine holes at extremely high pressure to such a fine extent they no longer separate out. The process ensures the milk lasts longer and is why most supermarket milk is very white in colour not a natural creamy one, and also why there is no cream ‘line’ in the milk. It also means it does not absorb smell as readily - one of the main signals that dairy produce is really past it’s best. Homogenisation also makes digestion almost impossible and is a major reason why some people cannot tolerate cows milk, it is not the milk itself but the homogenising (a huge amount of people who think they are intolerant to milk are actually fine with ours!).




There’s a lot of talk in the press about raw, unpasteurised milk at the moment. What do you think of the pasteurisation process? Would you ever consider supplying ‘raw’ milk?


Obviously with our own milk bottling we are at an advantage-our bottling plant is specifically designed to damage the milk as little as possible. We do not pump it and only pasteurise at 73 degrees, so quite a low level. Milk is incredibly fragile and needs treating with love and care to maintain its flavour.Because our milk is not homogenised, and because we bottle it personally and are in control of the processing, I am confident it could not be fresher or taste any better. There is a huge amount of confusion between pasteurisation and homogenisation-in some alarmingly high profile places -which do lead to a lot of misinformed ideas. A huge amount of people who ask us for raw milk actually means unhomogenised!! In summary pasteurisation makes it safe-homogenisation makes it boring. Milk does have pathogenic bacteria in it, and pasteurisation makes it totally safe. I cannot taste the difference between raw milk and our breakfast milk-so is it really worth the risk?! I think every business needs stability of some sort. With raw milk your local authority can stop you producing overnight if there is an issue which may be totally outside your control, so it is just not a viable option.




Is dairy good for you? And what do you think of people substituting cow’s milk for rice milk, almond milk or soya milk when they don’t have intolerances, because they think it’s healthier?


Dairy is certainly good for you. The amount of vitamins in milk is just amazing-after all it is the only liquid we could actually live on (if we had too!). All vitamins in milk are fat soluble though-so people should, if they are in need of extra vitamins, or children ,drink whole milk. Half fat means half the vitamins! There has been a huge amount of research lately on good and bad fats-and dairy is repeatedly coming out as a good fat. Obviously it is everything in moderation-but arguably a natural product is always going to be better for you than a prepared, artificially sweetened or salted one. Kefir has very well documented health benefits and immune boosting properties-and indeed many customers of our own have seen a multitude of benefits. I think the alternative ‘milk’ has it’s place for people with genuine intolerances. But it is becoming a weird situation where(believe it or not!) people are forgetting it is actually a white liquid produced from a plant or nut/seed-it is not the milk of a mammal-so arguably is it a milk or is it a juice? Can you hope for the same nutritional profile as that of dairy milk? No of course not. Everything has its place, but people shouldn’t actually substitute it for dairy milk and hope for the same result - in reality it is a totally different product. I have been asked if we produce almond milk on our farm a few times!!?! Which just goes to show how disjointed and confused the whole thing is becoming by it being branded as milk.




Is your milk sustainable and do you use plastic packaging?


Our farm is quite different for a vast amount of reasons, and our carbon footprint is tiny. We bottle our milk onsite in our own dairy - no tankers, no factories. The only journey our milk makes is from our onsite dairy to the shop shelf in our own delivery van. We grow all our own forage on our farm – not relying on transported bought in feed. We do not feed grain and straights – which have taken a huge amount of energy to produce. We do not use fertilizers - which releases a tonne of carbon into the atmosphere for every tonne produced. No packaging is perfect and we deliver using plastic bottles which are made from a high percentage of recycle plastic. Not bottling in glass means:
We can deliver more from one vehicle without multiple trips due to excessive weight
It is suitable to be sold in a retail situation and transported by customers home
We do not use extra energy in the extensive sterilising facilities required for glass. We hope the way we farm every day, filling our bottles with the most responsibly produced dairy products possible offsets the negatives of a plastic bottle. PLEASE RECYCLE THEM RESPONSIBLY





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Hardwicke Farm
Hardwicke 
Gloucester 
GL2 3QE

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