Every year, some local farmers open up their farms for Open Farm Sunday. It’s an opportunity for non-farming types to see where their food and milk comes from. A chance to commune with cows, tractors and manure. We’ve never been but I feel I have. Open Farm Sunday is always a big event on the Archers.
Last year, on the Archers, the mega dairy held its first Open Farm Sunday but it was far from successful with the unfortunate death of a cow. Meanwhile, the event at Brookfield (David and Ruth Archer’s farm) was a big success. This year things were reversed. Not that I really want to talk about the plot developments in my favourite programme. However…
Late last, and early this, year, David and Ruth, following pressure from their daughter Pip, were looking into robotic milking. They went and visited a couple of farms which had the units installed and, as a listener, I found out a lot about this amazing technology. It intrigued me but I held out little hope of ever seeing one in action.
Well, that changed today.
A dairy farm not far from us held an Open Farm Sunday today…except it was called a Festival of Farming, Food and Wildlife (not as catchy but the same thing).
Pierrepont Farm is actually run by a charity, the Countryside Restoration Trust. It covers 104 acres and has a herd that numbers between 90 and 140 cows, depending on births and deaths. They recently installed two robotic milking machines and are eager to show them off.
Basically, robotic milking means that the cows determine when they want to be milked rather than wait for the farmer. When they feel the urge, they wander over to the machine, step onto a grate and are milked. They then wander back to the herd for a bit more cud chewing.
The cows wear electronic tags which contain their details, including when they were last milked and how much they gave. If a cow has already reached the limit for the day, the machine will reject them, sending them on their way. Otherwise, a series of laser sensors will find their teats, clean them then tubes will attach and start milking. Monitors show the progress of the four teats.
It is an extraordinary thing to watch. We were lucky enough to see one cow rejected and a second milked successfully. Something else extraordinary was the smell. Mirinda claimed it was so bad she could taste it. I simply turned my nose off at the first sniff. It really was rank. I guess dairy farmers must get used to it.
Anyway, the robotic milking was amazing and a brilliant use of technology. It does mean that the farmer loses the intimate connection with the herd (or so the dairyman told us) but it’s better for the cows and produces better milk. After all, not all cows want to be milked first thing in the morning.
As well as the robotic milking unit, there were lots of pretty Jersey cows to see, pat (if one wanted) and hand feed. This included the newest addition to the herd: Discovery Broilers Bouquet. She was born this morning and was happily feeding (the non-robotic way) from her mother, Discovery Bobs Mistletoe.
There was also a lot of lovely tractors and assorted farm machinery, lined up outside the dairy unit with explanations on how they were utilised. There was a queue of little kids (with their parents) waiting to sit in a big red tractor. Being a big kid and feeling I’d possibly never get another opportunity to sit in a big red tractor, I joined the queue.
There was a bit of mickey taking by the parents behind us but I didn’t care. The seat was remarkably comfortable and it bounced up and down.
After walking through the big shed and saying hello to the pretty bovine occupants, we made our way along the woodland track to visit Frensham Brewery. They haven’t been brewing for very long (regular readers may remember that I tried a couple of pints when we were living at Frensham last year) but their beer is fantastic. They have the most unlikeliest of drinkers.
They also had a stall selling hot food, where we were going to indulge in a bit of lunch but, sadly, they were having trouble keeping up with the demand (they clearly needed Bob helping them) and we didn’t fancy joining the very long queue. Instead, we walked back to the farm, collected Max and headed for Frensham Garden Centre for a couple of their delicious bacon sandwiches.
(Speaking of Bob…during their weekly Skype, Bob wondered why we were going to a farm because Mirinda didn’t know anything about agriculture. She then reminded him that she attended an agricultural high school and, actually, knew quite a lot having had to take part in various farm procedures.)
Sadly, the garden centre had stopped making bacon sandwiches so we bought some lovely farmhouse bread and I made some at home instead. We also bought some delicious cheese from the cheese counter where we discussed the offerings with a very knowledgeable young man who’d tried all but two of them.
A lovely, countryside day completed with the roast of the week which was chicken followed by shortbread and almond fingers.