Fresh from the farm

Tra­di­tional-style dairy pro­duce prov­ing a hit in Tip­per­ary

Irish Independent - Farming - - FRONT PAGE - Ta­mara Fitz­patrick

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.”

Freezer

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

PHO­TOS: LIAM BURKE/PRESS 22

New life: Mimi Craw­ford in her or­ganic veg­etable, herb and flower gar­den at the Craw­ford farm in Gar­raun Lane, Cloughjor­dan, Co Tip­per­ary

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