As you may be aware (or not as the case may be) at foureighty™, we get regular supplies of fresh milk throughout the week delivered from Bradfields Farm - which is the last independent dairy in Essex and situated just down the road in North Benfleet.
The owner, John Garbutt, often rocks up himself, resplendent with a branded green t-shirt and weathered cap, and he hands over several crates of his delicious milk at a time. Depending on how busy we are, we’ll often exchange a few words over the counter and when John is about to leave, we’ll hand him a takeaway of his favourite flat white coffee
But before he goes, we’ll always ask him ‘How are the cows, John?’
And he’ll always reply ‘Yeah, they’re doing alright!’
Well, a few weeks ago, John went one better than that and said that we should come to the farm and take a look for ourselves. After which the team all hi-fived each other and said ‘YES, WE’RE GOING TO THE COUNTRYSIDE!’
Even though we do pretty much live in the countryside.
On the day of our visit, the weather was balmy yet overcast, so a combination of t-shirts, shorts and trainers was deemed to be de rigueur. A fashion combination that was soon to be dispelled as we wandered into the yard.
For Bradfields really is a live, working farm - with all the mud, hay, noises, smells and general oomska that should rightly be associated with it. And as we were met by Clare, wife of John, the first thing she suggested was to lend us some wellies.
Which lent us a ‘Kate Moss at Glastonbury’ vibe. But with hairier legs.
Having now introduced Clare Lambert, we should add here that it is her family that owns the farm and it has been in their capable hands for over 100 years now. Founded by her great-grandad, Reg Lambert in 1922, timing could have been better given that the Depression, the Second World War and numerous other challenging times were to follow.
However, the fact that it is still going strong is testimony to the resilience and quiet determination that has been passed down throughout the years and after spending some time with Clare, we could see that the baton was in good hands.
To describe the farm further, it is spread out over 100 acres and the dairy, barns and farmhouse form a natural hub in the middle of the surrounding pasture. There is a self-service farm shop too, with vending machines that dispense their milk, alongside a range of cream, yoghurt and cheese. All of which are handmade on the farm, so there are no food miles involved and straight away, you get these wistful feelings and emotions just by standing in there.
‘Why can’t we always buy our milk like this? whispered Matt (and he had a good point).
Having watched our eyes glow in particular at the cheese, Clare then took us over to their small but perfectly formed cheese making facility, where there are evidently plans to push the fromage envelope further. As such, there isn’t a proper ‘Essex’ cheese associated with the county but they are working on some exciting products. Including a variation of Camembert that we got to taste.
It was creamy, tangy and delectable. And of course, we asked straight away if we could get some in for the shop.
Followed by: ’And the cows made this?’
‘Well, not exactly by themselves. We sort of helped. Do you want to see them?’ replied Clare.
‘YES, THE COWS! THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT WE’RE HERE FOR!’
We imagined, quietly in our heads.
All in all, there are 120 Holstein-Friesian cows over at Bradfields and to see them up personal and close was rather special indeed. Happy and content to simply wander and munch up green grass all day, you could say that they lead a life of Reilly and according to Clare, that is exactly how you get the best from a dairy cow.
The cows' well-being is the top priority on the farm, keeping them healthy through diet and good day to day care and hygiene, only reaching for the medicine bag if needed and when essential for the girls’ health.
When we asked how much grass they could eat, the figure was around a whopping 120 kg of grass each per day. Not to mention silage, or fermented grass, which during the winter time makes up part of the 6.5 tonnes of feed they eat, when the fields are fallow. Which in some ways demonstrates just how much energy goes into production of milk.
Staring some more at some udders that were beginning to sway, we then asked the magic question - ‘How much milk does each cow produce a day?’
‘That’s a very good question,’ said Clare. ‘It’s milking time. Let’s go find out.’
And this is when we got to see the proper side of the business: the milking parlour.
Twice a day, once at 3.30AM and next at 3PM, the cows are led in from the fields. And again, it is all very much a calm and convivial process. A gate gets unhooked and off the herd trots around towards the parlour, as if by second nature, and in groups of 5 they go in to be milked.
At this stage, it does get a little bit Willy Wonka but the technology employed is very impressive, with each unit measuring flow and amounts of milk pumped through, which then goes into a tank to be collected.
Each cow takes approximately 10 minutes to be milked and on average, will deliver around 15 to 20 litres of milk. Which in turn, means that the farm produces a phenomenal 3500 litres a day.
Now, here is the rub with regards to the milk that we receive at foureighty™
While most of the milk from the farm goes off to the main national dairy every 2 days for processing and then on to shops for sale over the next few days, the farm is allowed to process and directly sell 10% of its milk. This means a handful of café’s and shops get their milk direct from the farm where it is pasteurised at the minimum legal temperature and bottled within 3 hours of the cows being milked.
So our milk is at the café before the rest of the milking leaves the farm, and because it isn’t homogenised the cream rises to the top making it perfect for barista coffee making.
All in all though, the biggest takeaway from our visit was to simply understand just how much hard work goes on at Bradfields. This really is a 24/7 endeavour. Day in, day out, and throughout the year.
We mentioned energy earlier and hand on heart, we can say that Clare, John and their very small dairy team, and Sarah who runs the milk herd all have it in unearthly abundance.
And as we drove out the gates after spending our time with them, we all agreed that Bradfield definitely had the passion and most importantly, the love to match what we do at foureighty™
As for the cows? Yeah, they really are doing alright!