Fresh from the farm
Traditional-style dairy produce proving a hit in Tipperary
Amilking parlour that was used to hand-milk cows two generations ago is now the centrepiece of a new, but traditionally Irish, brand of raw, organic dairy produce.
Owen and Mimi Crawford left their former professions behind and looked to the fertile land of their north Tipperary farm to start their own business.
After taking over Owen’s 28-acre family farm near Cloughjordan in 2014, they bought four Irish shorthorn cows and began milking them and using the raw milk and cream at home.
“We started out using the raw produce they naturally provide. There was also an old butter churn on the farm, so I thought I’d give it a go making my own country butter,” says American-born Mimi.
“As soon as people found out what we were doing, they wanted to try some of our produce.
“We started out just wanting to produce our own food and this naturally lent itself to producing for the community.”
Given the interest they got from family and friends, Owen and Mimi realised that raw, organic dairy produce was not that common and that there could be a niche in the market.
“We both had a desire to slow down, live well, eat well and to connect with nature, so we took a chance. Owen finished working as a carpenter and I scaled back my environmental consultancy work and we began building on our already diversified farm,” says Mimi.
The couple decided to make the move to commercial production. They also introduced organic meat to their new enterprise.
Owen and Mimi started by increasing their cow numbers; they also bought some pigs and chickens for meat.
“We added to our shorthorn herd. We like the shorthorns because they’re dual purpose — they are the perfect breed for both milk and meat — so we increased the herd to 13, still keeping it small-scale,” says Mimi — they wanted to continue using their traditional equipment they had.
“We use the same four-stall parlour that Owen’s grandfather used to hand-milk the cows. It’s a bucket milker and milks just two cows at a time.
“The butter pats I use were used by Owen’s grandmother. We wanted to keep things as personalised and traditional as possible,” says Mimi.
The dairy produce from Crawford’s Farm is unlike what we are used to seeing in the supermarkets as it’s all raw and organic. This means that the milk, cream and buttermilk are not pasturised (heated) or homogenised (crushed) in any way prior to retail.
“Our milk is filtered straight from the cow. It passes through several traditional filters and is then filled into our bottles,” says Mimi.
Certain milkings are destined to become cream.
“Cream is lighter than milk and we use a separator to separate the two. It works in high spinning rotation and has separators on each side so that the cream comes out one side and the skimmed milk comes out the other.”
A portion of this cream is then allocated to butter production.
“I use the stainless-steel butter churn and butter pats and I just churn the cream until it becomes butter. It’s pretty simple but it’s hard work and it takes time,” says Mimi.
Packaging for the dairy produce has been something of a challenge, and it’s taken a while to find one they are happy with.
“We always liked the idea of glass bottles for our milk, so we currently have 60-70pc bottled in glass and the remainder in plastic.
“We tried different types of labelling but because our glass bottles are recycled and returnable, it took some time to find a suitable label. We now have the label printed directly onto the glass bottles.
“Our local customers all wash the bottles after use and return them to us, and having the print directly on the glass means that the label withstands the repeated washing and sterilisation,” says Mimi.
Because Crawford Farm is relatively small-scale, Owen and Mimi find it difficult to find bottle suppliers that supply smaller quantities.
“We have to buy our bottles in large quantities because most dairy enterprises are much larger than ours and therefore the bottle suppliers only cater for that scale. This has meant that we have had to create storage space for our bottles,” explains Mimi.
Mimi’s butter is packaged in a wax wrapper, which seals in the flavour and keeps the product fresh. They found this type of packaging more readily available.
‘We use the same four-stall parlour that Owen’s grandfather used to hand-milk the cows. It’s a bucket milker and milks just two cows at a time’
The chickens and pigs on Crawford’s Farm are mobile in more ways than one.
“Both the chickens and the pigs live in what we call ‘tractors’,” says Mimi.
“These are essentially mobile houses which we move every day, this means that the animals follow each other in a natural rotation and make their way around the whole farm.
“Herbivores are natural sanitisers, so they clean the ground following the cows and pigs.”
Mimi and Owen take their animals to the local butcher and they then store the meet on their farm.
“We have a large freezer with plenty of storage. By the time the winter comes, all our meat is in the freezer. We only supply the dairy for nine months of the year, from December to March as this allows a natural break,” says Mimi.
The Crawfords now sell their produce directly to their customers, as well as through a few independent suppliers such as local shops. They do much of the deliveries themselves and also use a courier service.
“Things have been going well so far. Our business is based on transparency and we have built up a trustworthy name,” says Mimi.
“It has not been without work, though. With raw produce in particular, there are very strict hygiene standards that we must adhere to.”
Bringing home the bacon: Mimi with her pigs
New life: Mimi Crawford in her organic vegetable, herb and flower garden at the Crawford farm in Garraun Lane, Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary