The trend for sourcing food locally has benefited some farmers. Rachael Rowe talks to Rachael Perrett, owner of Meggy Moo’s at Park Farm in Shroton, and is amazed to witness their ‘robot milker’ in action.
When I arrive at Park Farm, owner Rachael Perrett is salting butter in the processing room. The farm lies at the foot of Hambledon Hill in Shroton, near Child Okeford, giving a spectacular view from Meggy Moo’s dairy, which has a herd of 180 Holstein cattle.
There’s a feeling of peace and serenity on this sunny January afternoon in what turns out to be a busy farming environment. How long has Meggy Moo’s been operational?
“Since 2016. I have a background in retail, and after my first daughter, Megan, was born (the farm’s direct sales business – Meggy Moo’s – is named after her) my husband Alan and I tried to come up with something I could do that would add value to the farm. “We began with whole milk and then expanded. When we first started, we were producing 100 litres a week. We used an honesty box system – it was a basic way to start a business. We’re not on a busy road, and people have tended to find us. The village of Shroton has always supported us.’
Super-fresh dairy products
Meggy Moo’s produces non- homogenised milk. It has been gently pasteurised using a lower temperature within hours of milking. As a result, it is super fresh, with cream naturally staying at the top. There’s a milk vending machine on the farm which also sells other products.
But there’s a lot more to the milking process at Meggy Moo’s, as Rachael explains: “Everything on the farm revolves around the welfare of the cows. We have a robot system, so the cows are free to come as they please to be milked. It typically takes 15 minutes to milk each cow. Compared to conventional milking, which can take two to three hours twice a day, this is a lot easier. Once the cow has given milk, they can just go off into the fields and ‘be a cow’!
In a conventional dairy, they don’t always have the time to develop as a herd. Our cows are happy and contented – and they are their own bosses.”
My mind is racing as I think about how it works, and I immediately wonder what happens if all
the cows want to go to the robots simultaneously. After all, they are ladies – I’m wondering how polite they might be with a loo-style wait.
Rachael laughs: “Oh yes, they all queue up. Some cows even have their favourite robot and head for that one each time. And some of the more dominant members of the herd go for their favourite ones, leaving the ‘less popular’ robot for those lower down in the pecking order. One or two try to push in if they all want the same robot at once!”
It sounds like those old characters in pubs with afavourite seat that no one else dares use. But some of the cows also try to milk the system.
Foiling crafty cows
“When the robot is milking the cows, they are fed. Some are crafty enough to try and get more food, so they queue up again to try and get to the feeder! But the robot is always right, it detects they have just been milked, and gently shoos them on their way.”
I watch as a cow enters the robot for milking. A sensor scans the cow and brushes clean their teats. The robot can detect early signs of mastitis and other problems and send a message to Alan’s smartphone. As the milk is produced, a computer measures the weight and yield of the cow. It’s all very high-tech, but the cows appear content, and it’s a quick process. The cows also get a weekly visit from the vet to check for problems.
Growing the business
Meggy Moo’s has grown and now produces a variety of items as the business has expanded.
‘We started with whole milk. Then customers asked us about semi-skimmed, so we did that, and of course, a by-product is cream. We also now produce our own butter and a range of school-approved milkshakes.’
Which one product would Rachel recommend people try?
“Our butter,” she says without hesitation. “It’s proper farmhouse butter.”
I ask about the difference the pandemic has made to the business. Rachael smiles:
“As a food producer, it has done us nothing but good, which I know is an odd thing to say. It has made people look for alternatives to the supermarkets, and to see what they can source locally. People enjoy the concept of milk straight from the farm and they bring their children to see the calves. Those that found us have stayed with us.” Meggy Moo’s has also expanded the business to include wholesalers.
“We now have 65 wholesalers, without any advertising – they all found us, usually by word of mouth. Our clients include The Pig at Brockenhurst. We also do ‘producers days’. We deliver milk direct to the wholesale customer in reusable 15-litre containers, reducing the need for plastic. People love the concept of the farmer delivering directly
to a business, but it’s not just ‘a nice thing’, it’s important. For example, sometimes the milk changes with the season; this way the business can speak directly to the farmer if they notice a change.” What has been the highlight of your business? “Seeing the business grow and also developing relationships with the wholesale customers. It’s also satisfying to produce something that is ‘your own thing’ that people enjoy, and where the animals are not put under any pressure.”
by Rachael Rowe