Flavour of the Month

Taw River Dairy, by Deb­bie Kings­ley

Country Smallholding - - Contents - For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.tawriver­dairy.co.uk/

Hus­band and wife team Katie and Sam Bulling­ham are go­ing places. The 20-some­thing own­ers of Taw River Dairy are en­tre­pre­neur­ial through and through, but they have no in­ter­est in chas­ing fi­nan­cial or out­put tar­gets.

“My busi­ness driver is long-term qual­ity of life for me, Katie and our kids,” says Sam.

Katie is due to give birth to their first child in a few weeks. “We’re not try­ing to overly mech­a­nise things or robo­tise any­thing; I like manual labour and em­ploy­ing peo­ple to work with us. I see it as a lo­cal com­mu­nity in­vest­ment and we don’t want to lose the per­sonal touch.”

Now is a per­ti­nent mo­ment for this re­flec­tion. The cou­ple launched their dairy — which makes ice creams, sor­bets and but­ter and bot­tles milk — in March 2017 and they are about to take on a 10-year ten­ancy of 310 nearby acres while also keep­ing their cur­rent ground.

“At the mo­ment we run 24 milk­ing cows — a mix of Jer­seys, Red Polls and dairy crosses — on a 60-acre small­hold­ing,” Sam ex­plains. Some of this land be­longs to Sam’s grand­mother, while the rest is rented from a neigh­bour near Samp­ford Courte­nay in Devon.

But this cou­ple isn’t all about cows and milk­ing. They like to process what their an­i­mals pro­duce and the hub of this op­er­a­tion is a small shed on their hold­ing which they have trans­formed into a dairy pro­cess­ing room. From the out­side you wouldn’t know that the dairy is any­thing other than a stor­age shed. Chick­ens and ducks meander around the yard and past the shed calmly greet­ing vis­i­tors.

No big­ger than your av­er­age fam­ily kitchen, in­side the pro­cess­ing room is rammed full of gleam­ing stain­less steel kit for mak­ing and stor­ing ice cream, as well as bot­tling their milk, which is sold in tra­di­tional glass bot­tles. It smells clean and fresh and, dressed in whites, Katie and two part-time staff work qui­etly, chore­ograph­ing their moves to avoid get­ting in each other’s way.

An old fash­ioned ice cream trike and trailer parked out­side on a grassy verge is a tell-tale sign of what is go­ing on in­side. It may be un­used to­day, but it ap­pears at nu­mer­ous lo­cal agri­cul­tural shows, food fairs and farm­ers’ mar­kets, at which the Bulling­hams sell their wares di­rect to the pub­lic. In­vari­ably the queues to buy are long. The trike also fre­quently finds it­self loaded up and trans­ported to spe­cial events, such as birth­day par­ties and wed­dings,

where the guests have a pen­chant for ice creams and sor­bets.

These sweet treats are as fab­u­lous, de­li­cious and won­der­fully flavoured as they sound. The list of those flavours (some cur­rently bought in) is long: hon­ey­comb, lemon meringue, pe­can and maple syrup, straw­berry and choco­late brownie, plus — for grown ups — straw­berry prosecco, vodka lemon and lime or gin and el­der­flower. Each prod­uct is beau­ti­fully but sim­ply pre­sented in pa­per tubs with a golden logo de­signed from a clear brief by Sam that con­nects the gold top Jersey milk with the ice cream. It shouts lux­ury and pu­rity.

The fo­cus is on the fact that the calves are kept with their dams. In­side the creams, pinks, yel­lows and browns are a feast for the eyes first and then for the taste buds sec­ond. There are no un­wanted ad­di­tives in here and be­cause of the high nat­u­ral pro­tein in the milk and cream there is lit­tle that needs adding apart from those spe­cial flavour­ings.

“We’ve planted ed­i­ble hedgerows across the small­hold­ing to make our own ice cream and sor­bet syrups har­vested from rose­hips, sea buck­thorn, wild pear, cherry, plum and el­der­flower,” says Sam.

While Katie is busy pro­cess­ing the milk, Sam looks af­ter the land and the cows and he milks his herd sev­eral fields away in an old fash­ioned yard with a sim­ple mo­bile milk­ing ma­chine. He is con­stantly in­ter­rupted by the ring­ing of his phone and af­ter ex­chang­ing a few pleas­antries, he takes down or­ders for milk, ice cream, sor­bet and but­ter.

Apart from sell­ing to the con­sumer via the trike or di­rect from the dairy, an in­creas­ing num­ber of nearby shops, cafes and pubs with a fo­cus on lo­cal or­ganic food are sell­ing the Bulling­ham’s pro­duce.

Work­ing with lo­cal cheese­maker Cur­wor­thy Cheese, Taw River Dairy is also pro­duc­ing soft cheese made from its 100% A2 milk (see fact file, page 42), and Sam is keen to pro­duce a Taw River Dairy ched­dar type of hard cheese that will store well. Yo­gurt is also on the agenda of what hap­pens next. With Taw River only pro­cess­ing its own milk — and with the ever-in­creas­ing de­mand for its prod­ucts — it is not sur­pris­ing that Sam and Katie need to ex­pand their herd and their land. The six-fold planned ex­pan­sion is be­ing funded through the busi­ness’s swift suc­cess.

Farming must be in Sam and Katie’s genes. Sam’s grand­par­ents used to farm on Dart­moor.

“They kept the small­hold­ing where the dairy is now based,” he says. “Even though my fa­ther was an en­gi­neer and my mother a teacher, I al­ways wanted to be a farmer and I grafted as a shearer to raise the startup money for the busi­ness.”

Katie’s fam­ily run a tra­di­tional dairy farm in Corn­wall.

“My back­ground is as an agron­o­mist, so the sys­tem we now run here has been a sig­nif­i­cant change for me,” she says. “The ground is in or­ganic con­ver­sion with Or­ganic Farm­ers and Grow­ers (OF& G), and the dairy herd is a cow/calf dairy, which means that the calves stay with their mothers un­til they are at least four months old. The cows are milked once [not the usual twice] a day and all the bull calves are reared on to sell as breed­ing bulls or, pos­si­bly in the fu­ture, for sale as high wel­fare rose veal.” Sam has planted the land as herbal leys. “In­stead of a sea of grass, the cows are feed­ing on a rich mix­ture of ‘cut and come again’ plants with a sig­nif­i­cant amount of chicory, plus sain­foin, lucerne, clovers, plan­tain, tre­foil and more,” he says.

On our way to see the herd, we walk across a field with green­ery thick above our an­kles. Sam is proud of the growth con­sid­er­ing that the cows had only been taken out of this pas­ture 10 days pre­vi­ously. The plants the Bulling­hams grow ex­tend the out­door graz­ing win­dow and, as Sam sows the seeds with a broad­caster on the back of a quad bike, no hefty kit is re­quired.

The cou­ple has also bro­ken the mould in other ways.

“I’m con­scious that the peo­ple buy­ing our gold top milk, but­ter, ice creams and sor­bets are in­creas­ingly con­cerned about as­pects of food and farming,” says Sam.

Their Jersey cows are nat­u­rally horned, but they are us­ing se­men from a polled New Zealand bull and Sam be­lieves that Taw River Dairy is one of the first busi­nesses in the UK to do this. This means that they won’t have to dis­bud their calves, thus im­prov­ing wel­fare.

“Wher­ever pos­si­ble we are pur­su­ing the sus­tain­able op­tion, from re-us­able glass bot­tles to com­postable ice cream spoons. We have our own bee hives, with our bees im­por­tant in the pol­li­na­tion of the herbal and grass leys and vi­tal to mak­ing our spe­cial Devon Clot­ted Cream and Honey Ice Cream.”

The plan is to fo­cus on build­ing up the herd of Jersey cows, dou­bling their num­bers to be­gin with and test­ing them to en­sure that the herd only car­ries A2 genes. They need to calve in spring and au­tumn to en­sure a year-round sup­ply of milk, with each cow av­er­ag­ing a 12ltr daily yield.

“Our ethos is to make the best pos­si­ble prod­ucts, so for the ice cream we in­vested in the best ice cream ma­chine we could find, putting our money where it re­ally counts and where the cus­tomers ap­pre­ci­ate the dif­fer­ence.”

Look­ing into his crys­tal ball, Sam can fore­see car­ing for a dairy herd of 200 and a team of 10 staff. Oth­er­wise, though, he ad­mits that he will ditch the goals and tar­gets “be­cause they make you mis­er­able if you don’t achieve them”.


The Bulling­hams cur­rently have 24 milk­ing cows, but the herd is set to ex­pand ex­po­nen­tially

Taw River Dairy pack­ag­ing re­flects the nat­u­ral na­ture of the prod­ucts in­side

Sam’s mo­bile milk­ing ma­chine

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