What kind of team do you need to run a small artisan cheese business like Norton and Yarrow? In the very early days, it was just the two of us - a (Fraser) Norton and a (Rachel) Yarrow. We both did all elements of the business from goat husbandry and milking, to cheese making and selling, to admin and planning. A two person business is hard to sustain though when the work goes on 24/7, and it wasn't long before we started to need some help. Over the next few weeks and months, I'm planning to do a few more blog pieces introducing you more fully to some members of our team, but to start I'll give you an overview of how our team developed and who it consists of.
In our first year, 2016, we did almost everything ourselves, but in order that we could take a couple of days off to visit family and both be present at the birth of our son Gabriel, we needed to find someone who could feed and milk the goats- hand milking in those days! That was when we found Linda, who still works for us now. Linda was new to goats but had a myriad of professional experience with other animals, particularly horses and dogs.
In 2017, our herd size increased quite considerably and we were milking 25 goats by the spring and 35 by the summer. Since we now also had a young baby to look after, we needed some more help to get by - Fraser worked 7 days a work for the first 6 months of the year, often 12+ hour days, and it wasn't really sustainable. Adriana answered a facebook post seeking weekend cheesemaking help, and still works for us now, doing weekends and various cheesemaking shifts during the week. Adriana was new to cheese making, but in the past used to run a cafe and several other businesses in South Africa, so food preparation was something she knew well. We also had some help from two local smallholders, Jeannie and June, covering milking a couple of mornings a week, on particularly busy cheesemaking days.
By 2018, our herd had grown again and we also moved from once to twice a day milking which immediately created another two hours work a day. At this point we were lucky to find Heather, who qualified from agricultural college and had lots of experience working on farms, particularly with cows, sheep and pigs. I noticed a post she put on a facebook group we are both in called 'Ladies and Livestock' and as she was local, messaged her to see if she was interested in branching out into goats.
At this point, we also decided to get some extra help with milking and cheesemaking at the weekend in order to have a bit more time to recharge and catch up as a family, and at this point Linda stepped up to milking every weekend and Adriana went from working every other weekend to every weekend. We do still end up working at the weekend more often than you would in your typical 9 to 5 job, especially at busy times of year like kidding periods and Christmas. However we are mindful of trying to take a bit of care of ourselves as burn out is a real threat in a business like ours and having the odd day or half day off can make all the difference to levels of energy and cheerfulness.
In the autumn of 2018, Mandy (pictured hanging up bags of curd) joined us working in the cheese making side of the business on some weekdays when we were struggling to get everything done with the two of us. Mandy's background was again not in cheesemaking, but she soon picked it up and enjoyed the work. Not long afterwards I found out I was due to have our second baby in May 2019 and Mandy went up to 4 days a week on a more permanent basis so I could step back from the most physical work and take a few months maternity leave.
Most recently, in the summer of 2019, we decided to take on an apprentice - we liked the idea of helping someone take their first steps on the ladder of a career in agriculture, and as the herd has continued to grow, an extra pair of hands is proving invaluable. Tom (pictured above, in the barn) started on a two week trial in September and is now enrolled with the Berkshire College of Agriculture alongside his job with us, aiming to complete a Level 2 Apprenticeship within the next 18 months. He is our youngest member of the team.
We have also had help from various people on a more ad hoc or shorter term basis when our workload has spiked - kidding times, busy cheesemaking times, people off work. David has covered weekend cheesemaking for most of the year alongside building up his yoga teaching and caring for family; Lucy, Paul, Lynn and Daisy have put in extra cheese shifts, while Flo, Rebecca and a host of first year vet students have helped us on the goat side of things.
We are lucky to have such a committed and positive team and I look forward to putting the spotlight on a few of them in some forthcoming blog pieces!