AHEAD OF THE HERD
An unusual four-legged leaving present inspired the start of a new business for Tereza Fairbairn
G" I make use of everything so I can reinvest the profits into caring for the animals
oats smile – not many people realise this, but it’s true. For proof you need only visit Fulibroch Dairy, run by Tereza Fairbairn on her smallholding, which sits on one side of the verdant Stour Valley in Suffolk. Take the short walk from her 15th-century farmworker’s cottage to the goat sheds and you’ll be greeted by at least one cheerful face peering over a stable door, ears cocked back, bright eyes alert and what is unmistakably a jaunty grin very much in evidence. Venture closer and a soft, furry nose the colour of weak tea will be pushed into your hand in search of head strokes, which will turn the goat’s eyes from alert to blissfully half closed.
It’s no surprise really that Tereza’s goats smile. Each one is meticulously cared for from the moment it’s born on site (with her help when necessary). They’re all fed high-quality meadow hay and dairy nuts (plus goodies from the vegetable patch), are kept in deep, straw-lined stables in cold or wet weather, allowed to roam her two-and-a-half-acre plot when it’s fair and are hand-milked by Tereza or her partner, Tim, twice a day.
With this in mind, it’s surprising to learn that the architect behind such devoted care wasn’t always a goat fan. “When I found out my colleagues were planning to get me one as a leaving present, I nearly asked if I could have a pair of wellies instead,” Tereza says over tea in her farmhouse-style kitchen. “I’ve always loved dabbling in the good life – when we lived in Witham, Essex, I had a vegetable patch and kept a few ex-battery hens – but I was shocked at the idea of having a goat. I didn’t know the first thing about caring for one.” Liesel, as the goat was named, was brought home to the Suffolk village of Bures St Mary, where Tereza and Tim had bought a cottage and sprawling plot shortly before she left her job to look after their son Matthew, now ten, full time.
Despite Tereza’s initial nerves, it wasn’t long before the whole family started to warm to the idea of goat-keeping and, when a local breeder asked if she would like two more British Toggenburgs, she couldn’t resist. However, the newcomers came with a problem. “Suddenly, we had 70 litres of milk a week on our hands. It was too much for us to drink between us. I couldn’t pour it down the drain because it would cause a blockage and it was illegal for me to put it on the compost heap or sell it, so what else could I do but open a dairy?” she says, laughing.
In early 2013, Tereza and Tim enlisted the help of local builders to construct a simple two-room dairy – one room for milking and another for bottling. Having developed a meticulous eye for detail in her previous job, Tereza relished the stringent hygiene regulations involved in food production and carefully furnished the space, sourcing most of her equipment secondhand. For the dairy (and her official herd pre-fix), she chose the name Fulibroch in reference to Fulebroc, an ancient hamlet her home would once have sat within, named after the ‘full’ or ‘foul’ brook that still runs into the River Stour to this day.
Avoiding waste has always been incredibly important to Tereza and, having been the catalyst for the launch of the dairy, it now sits very much at the heart of the business. As a result, in addition to the goats’ creamy raw milk, customers can now buy handcrafted goats’ milk soap infused with herbs and flowers, lean goats’ meat and beautifully soft goats’ hides. “It’s very
important to me to make use of every part of the process, so I can reinvest the profits into caring for the animals,” she explains. Climb the hill behind Tim and Tereza’s cottage and you will see the latest ingenious scheme to make use of another abundant by-product of animal rearing: manure.
Despite the rambunctious, free-ranging goats – Tereza’s herd has now grown to two dozen – the meadow above her house feels like a sanctuary. Home to three 300-year-old oaks, it has views across to the Essex side of the Stour Valley, known locally as ‘Little Switzerland’. “We get barn owls nesting up here and often see sparrowhawks, hares and fallow deer,” Tereza says. “We’ve even glimpsed polecats and muntjac deer in the past. It feels a long way from the trading floor, where I often wasn’t even near a window.”
In addition to local wildlife, one corner of the field is also home to the Fulibroch vegetable patch, irrigated, like the rest of the plot, with the water from an ancient well at the front of the house, which is pumped using solar power. Here, in addition to strawberries, raspberries, beetroots and apricot, plum and black bullace trees, there are several rows of leafy rhubarb thrusting up from a generous layer of goat manure. “Rhubarb thrives in it,” Tereza says. “This is Tim’s project really. We pull it from now until August and sell it locally.” The goats are also beneficiaries of the vegetable patch. “They love courgettes – when they grow into marrows, they all go mad for them. We also give them apples from our trees. It’s lovely in autumn because we get calls from all over the village with people saying, ‘We’ve got some windfalls – would the goats like them?’ We recycle all the Christmas trees round here, too. People drop them off and the goats have a lovely time munching away.”
Tereza also uses her knowledge of plants and herbs to supplement the goats’ diet with medicinal varieties when necessary. “Comfrey is great if they’re lame or have muscular injuries, for example,” she explains, “while nettles or bronze fennel stimulate milk production. I’ll always try using plants before resorting to medication.”
Since it launched, Fulibroch Dairy has become a true family affair. Three years ago, Tim, also an investment banker, left his job to help out with the goats. This gave Tereza more time to spread the word about her low-waste, ‘closed loop’ approach to animal rearing by giving talks to local groups and schools. She was also able to spend more time working on the dairy’s marketing, even writing to Country Living’s editor Susy Smith, asking (successfully) if it could appear in the magazine. Meanwhile, her son Matthew has become something of a star on the agricultural show circuit. Attending in a pristine white coat, flat cap, shirt and tie, he and his own British Alpine goat called Rosemary (who he affectionately calls Rozza) have won a string of rosettes and are slowly becoming the faces of Fulibroch on social media.
This might all seem a long way from Tereza’s previous job in the Square Mile, but when it comes to the unexpected way her life has unfolded, she’s philosophical: “Sometimes, when opportunities just land in your lap, you have be receptive to them. I remember Tim saying, when he found out what my leaving present was going to be, ‘You don’t have to do it. I can go back and tell them to get you something else’. At that point I had no idea that the gift was going to turn into a dairy in my garden, but it just goes to show that if you’re open to what life throws at you, you never know where it might lead.”
"Sunndenly, we had 70 litters of milk a week, which was too much for us to drink
Fulibroch Dairy’s creamy raw milk comes from hand-reared goats that are free to roam; Tim’s big project is now the rhubarb (below right), which grows well with goat manure