A Day in the Life...
It’s a Wednesday towards the end of January, and we’re coming to the end (we hope!) of another freezing cold spell. No two days are the same at Norton and Yarrow but the days have a similar rhythm of cheese and goat work. At this time of year, things are a bit quieter on the cheese and goat front – we’re milking 40 goats (down from 100 just before Christmas), not kidding yet, and making less cheese compared to November and December. So it’s a good chance to do some planning, to work on other projects around the farm - and to catch up on admin!
Mandy was the first person at work on the farm this morning, arriving at 7am to set up the parlour for morning milking, which needs to start by 7.30am. It’s still dark at that time in January, and when the temperature is below freezing, it can be quite hard to get out of bed and out of the door. Fern arrives by 8.00am to ‘do the barn’ – feed the goats, refresh the straw on the goats’ beds, refill hay racks and on a morning like this, also do something about the fact that the water drinkers have frozen (again!).
Chris is the first person to get into the cheese making rooms (or ‘the cheese’ as we call it) and he spends the first hour or so setting up for cheese making, sanitising and laying out all the equipment that will be used. Today we are salting and ashing a small batch of Brightwell Ash, ladling a big batch of Sinodun Hill, and starting two makes (a Sinodun and a Brightwell make).
Fraser takes our children, Dorothea and Gabriel, to school while I head down to the farm to finish packing and wrapping some orders that are due to go out today. Wrapping cheese is one of my favourite bits of the job, not least as it’s an opportunity to catch up on podcasts or listen to an audiobook. Today though I listen to a lecture on the history of silage – which is fascinating, to me at least! I’ve just started another unit of study for my distance learning masters in agriculture through Aberystwyth University. It’s hard to fit everything in, what with work, the children, studying etc, so I have to take every opportunity I can get to cover the material for the course.
Fraser gets to the farm about 9.30am after the school run and heads over to the other Earth Trust farm to pick up their tractor, which we are borrowing for the morning. The task in hand today is clearing out a barn – it used to house the pigs of another Earth Trust tenant but it’s been empty since 2020 and we are now getting it ready to use as additional goat housing this spring. It’s amazing how much general dirt can gather in an empty barn! Steve arrives at the farm with Fraser and sets about clearing out the milking yard and helping Fraser with the corners the tractor can’t reach in the old pig barn.
Back in the cheese, Fern and Mandy are now also on the scene, having finished their respective milking and goat barn duties. Fern and Chris take charge of the Sinodun Hill ladling, while Mandy turns a big batch of Sinodun Hill onto their sides, before working out how much salt and ash we’ll need for the batch of Brightwell Ash and doing the last bits of preparation for the task of salting and ashing.
Everyone takes it in turns to have lunch – we have a tiny office but at a pinch we can fit three people in at once! After lunch, Fraser heads off to collect some extra milk from another local goat farm. At this time of year, the milk supply from our own herd is very low because we have dried off three-quarters of our herd ready for kidding, which is now only five weeks away. So there will be loads of milk again come March, but at the moment we only have a small number of milkers going through the parlour, ones that we have held back for kidding later in the year.
Mandy, Chris and Fern have finished ladling and salting and ashing, so now turn to the clean-up operation (always a big part of cheese-making!), plus getting ready for starting the new makes – preparing vats and working out quantities of ingredients. Then we start pumping in the milk, first from our own herd and then, once Fraser arrives back, the extra milk we have bought in. The flow rate is pretty slow as we use very gentle pumps in order to cause as little damage as possible to the milk, so this can take well over an hour.
I’m onto the more prosaic task of working out the staff rota for the next two months. There are hardly ever two weeks the same! I have to look ahead and forecast likely demand for cheese, and then work out how many makes of each type of cheese we will do and on which days. We also have to factor in kidding, starting in March, which adds a lot of extra workload (but in an unpredictable way because you never quite know when, in a 4 week period, the 79 goats due to kid are going to choose to give birth). To help me work out likely demand, I call a couple one of our biggest customers to talk about how their sales are going at the moment and what they expect February to be like too, as well as looking back to last year’s sales figures for February. It’s nice to catch up too and we’re hoping they can come for a farm visit soon. Like everyone, we have been really feeling the squeeze this year as costs rise and we have to be very careful that we’re sticking to our business plan, and make changes quickly if needed.
Once the milk is all in the vats, Fern works out the starter quantities for the new makes, then weighs them out and stirs them in. All the cheese in the maturing rooms needs turning and assessing. Chris wraps and labels up some orders that are going out tomorrow, and Fraser washes down the pump and the pasteuriser. While the milk was pumping in, he’s been back in barn he cleared out this morning, working out sizes and layouts of the new gates we need to order fit before goats can go in there.
Steve has spent the afternoon mucking out some stables where the billies have been living, which are empty at the moment while the boys are in with the girls for what we hope will turn into some summer kids. Now that’s finished, the does the afternoon barn round of feeding and topping up hay. Meanwhile Alice has arrived to do evening milking, which starts at 4.00pm. She will probably be the last person to leave the farm at around 6.00pm.
The last task in the cheese is to add the rennet to the new makes and make sure all the floors are washed and lights off.
I head back home to pick up the children, who go to an after-school club on a Wednesday. I have fifteen minutes to spare though so grab my laptop to write down what happened today ready to turn into a blog when I next get the chance!