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holdenfarmdairy holdenfarmdairy

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Hafod Cheese  Made by the Holden family and their herd of 71 Ayrshire cows on the home farm, Bwlchwernen Fawr, Wales' oldest organic dairy farm.


Now, in the cold light of an autumn afternoon, I must say that this is a pretty straight fence for one erected by torchlight early this morning. Now, if only I was as proficient in more useful things...brain surgery, predicting winning Euromillions numbers, sorcery, etc.

Over the weekend we had the great pleasure of welcoming Paris (pictured) who is a restaurant specialist in the wholesale team at Neal's Yard Dairy. Paris has never milked a cow before and, having watched me milk nine of them, she milked her first: Bunny 2 (also pictured). So unfaltering, so commanding was her performance that she went on to milk about half the herd while I swooned and swayed to the misty swing of the Oscar Peterson Trio. Once again I was dumbfounded by how good yet another Londoner was at working with the cows! Extraordinary! Paris was awarded the greatest honour of all when I allowed her to milk the Milking Welsh Black, Grassy Tail. For every second that one spends milking Grassy Tail, it is much like the sensation felt when one has won a pair of very fine geese at some delightful country fair or other; over and over again, winning geese every second until the winning stops because Grassy Tail has finished milking. Let me tell you: I have a great many imaginary geese.

Electric fencing by torchlight. I wonder how straight, how virtuous my line will be at daybreak?

I fear that we are now witnessing the dying embers of the 2017 grazing season. If I housed them now, it would be three or so weeks ahead of last year, so I can't really complain. BUT! Here I am complaining! It is what we do best in the farming industry. Complaining first. environmental stewards/deathbots (depending on your point of view) or 'stakeholder service providers' second, social pariahs third and on it goes until somewhere around eighty-sixth or ninety-third we are the producers of micro ingredients in the manufacture of iPhone screens, then at ninety-seventh we are the producers of food. I think I got that all correct. But back to housing the herd and the death throws of the grazing season: Had it not been for a remarkably dry spell and then those hot winds the other day, we would have been housing the herd nearly a month ago. What luck! If it hadn't been that way, they would have heard my wails of frustration on the Moon!

I enjoy breakfasting on porridge while reading a new copy of Private Eye. On the first page of the latest edition there is a 'Number Crunching' that is of interest to those involved in UK food and farming. I wonder what is to become of us all?

Just look at dear Victoria Plum and her stunning, newborn daughter! A lovely calf sired by a very high milk protein bull called World Crown. In the last calving that I reported to the world I brayed on and on about how wonderful the cow was in that she calved a year after she had her previous calf and how that was the way to run a profitable dairy farming enterprise. And admittedly we have had a great run of these cows, although that run of efficient glory comes to an end with Victoria Plum. She last calved on 18th August 2016. For shame! Oh well, you can't win them all. However, on the plus side, she did a 355 day lactation that yielded 7,248ltrs of milk that was 4.6% fat and 3.66% protein, which I cannot sniff at.

It is the 18th October 2017 and it seems hard to believe that today I have been carrying the 3rd cut of silage back to the farm. The latest silage cut I have known and the latest that Dafydd’s man Mouse, the baler driver, has known. But when you consider the average age of the British or European farmer, then Mouse and I are babies when it comes to farming. We’re not old enough to remember when the hayricks of Kent appeared orange as they reflected the terrible glow of the Great Fire of London, yet go to Ashford Market, all you’ll them going on about is that momentous night, STILL! My farming memories stretch back to things like John Gummer feeding his child a beef burger in front of a wall of cameras and the time that Edwina Currie killed all the chicken farmers. But, I digress. The 3rd cut was late and the weather has not been kind to any of us, other than June, which was good and we made hay and drank ale and ate Hafod. Upon reflection however, we have been ridiculously lucky through all this awful weather – we somehow, SOMEHOW picked-up a bumper harvest of oats, peas and barley AND a load of NON-MOULDY straw. Now, somehow, we managed to land the 3rd cut of red clover. Fortune smiled when Patrick saw fit to get Dafydd’s Dan to cut the clover, for it was then dried by the remarkable hot winds that came blowing across the farm - like God’s very own hair dryer - ahead of Storm Ophelia. We got the clover remarkably dry and all of the farmers in the Welsh hills and mountains had, for one precious heaven-sent day, the most fabulous hair dos.

World, please meet Boss Becky (pictured here with The Courtyard Dairy's Andy Swinscoe), who makes her social media first time outing as an author: I was in Settle last Wednesday to celebrate the official opening of The Courtyard Dairy’s wonderful new shop, museum and cafe. It is set in the most dramatic of landscapes, built in strong Yorkshire stone and buzzing with Andy, Kathy and the team’s passion, attention to detail and brilliant energy. The interconnectedness between our small farm in West Wales and what they are quietly and heroically achieving for farms like us in that special part of the country felt very powerful. Then there was Jenn Kast’s incredible commitment to the cause, driving all the way to the farm to collect the fresh Sunday morning milk for the fantastic Milk Jam project in London where some more devoted, interested people are striving and doing so much to understand what makes great British cheese. Then there is Bronwen and Francis Percival’s extraordinary book ‘Reinventing The Wheel – Milk, Microbes, and the Fight for Real Cheese’, which will be released in the UK on 30th November 2017 and should frankly be read by everyone. I’m so full of admiration for the network of special people who reach out to the world on behalf of small farmhouse cheesemakers, tell our story and sell our cheese. This is how real food systems should be - the connection is strong and we can’t do what we do without their care, knowledge, curiosity and love. GRATITUDE from us all to you all.

This was the scene in the milking parlour's tank room around 4.30 this morning: Neal's Yard Dairy's Jenn Kast filling churns with our fresh, raw, cow-warm milk. An hour later, Jenn had left with 250 litres and headed back to London where the milk will be used in her Milk Jam Cheshire cheese workshop. Teams made up of staff from such fine food businesses as NYD, Mons Fromagers, 40 Maltby St, Little Bread Pedlar and Kernel Brewery will get 40 litres each and set about making their own individual cheeses according to Cheshire specification. It warms the heart to think of representatives of these wonderful businesses making cheese with our milk. We'll taste the results in February 2018. I have nothing more to add other than this: My left leg must be shorter than my right leg, because the milking parlour isn't suffering from subsidence, despite what my most excellent photo suggests.

After yesterday's Great British Cheese Awards, Paul and Sarah Appleby - scions of the the Appleby Cheshire cheese dynasty - and I heroically braved the traumas of the Northern Line at RUSH HOUR!!! and set-up shop in the glorious, glorious, glorious 40 Maltby Street. We were soon joined by loads (three) of our lovely mutual friends. A highlight of the evening's food was the Char Wellington. This photo shows the post-awards party scene back at my lodgings in the Neal's Yard Dairy flat in Borough. You'll note that instead of sniffing cocaine or eating opium - which is what I imagine happens at popular culture awards after show parties - Paul is in actual fact sniffing (and then ate) a Bwlchwernen lactofermentation. Now don't let anyone tell you that we farmer-cheesemaker types don't know how to party!

This happened yesterday and demands that Instagram's Sutro filter to be deployed. After a very delightful lunch of duck hearts, roast partridge and a tender sprinkling of Burgundies, all taken in the cosy dark wooded cove of the restaurant Noble Rot, my lunch companion and I tottered off to the very grand St Pancras Hotel to represent Hafod cheese at the Great British Cheese Awards. We were nominated for best hard cheese and while we did not win - the esteemed Lincolnshire Poacher deservedly blazed to that particular glory - I got to shake the hand of the chef Brian Turner (late of TV's Ready Steady Cook) and he gave me a framed certificate, which incited the room into an eruption of riotous cheer and a man took our photograph. The afternoon proved to be a very fine opportunity to catch up with friends. I was pleased to see my Cow Club buddy Jonnie Crickmore, of Baron Bigod, pick up an award and Rosie from Bristol Cheese Shop also took home an award. Now, ethereal little lunches and awards ceremonies with their free Champagne are all very well and good, but the emotional centrepiece of my day was happening upon the pictured little friend. A sort of catrabbit. What was it? It will haunt me to the end of my days...to think the emotional centrepiece of my day is usually milling the oats, peas and barley. Such impossible wonders that they have in London! Add to my catrabbit encounter the fact that this morning I found, secreted in my awards goodie bag, Brian Turner's awards speech! What does it all mean? The catrabbit. The speech. There's a meaning in there somewhere. A clue. A clue to where the Spanish princess and the atomic physicist are being held prisoner by pirates and Marseille-based gangsters. I feel like Tintin! And I didn't expect to find myself writing that when I came to London. The photographer has something to do with it. Is Brian Turner's catrabbit being held hostage by the photographer? Hmmm.....

Patrick's lawnmower is broken. But then he realised he owns 75 other lawnmowers. They look a little shell shocked...invited onto the forbidden lands of the lawn.

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