It is a journey that first started with a raw milk vending machine. Such was the popularity and profitability of the venture, that the family-run farm was energised to find other ways to add value to its milk.
“We spotted an opportunity to produce an English brie that’s as good as any French brie,” explains Jonny Crickmore, pictured, who runs the farm with wife Dulcie, and his parents Graham and Frances.
He says the process involved learning directly from the French, and it had to start with changing the herd from Holstein to Montebeliarde. In doing so, it made the shift from producing a milk that was favoured for drinking, to one more suited to cheese-making.
Fen Farm’s on-site dairy now produces a range of award-winning artisan cheeses, from which its Baron Bigod – an English brie – represents the mainstay of the business. The farm produces around 150 tonnes of cheese annually, and while a proportion is available locally through its on-farm shop, the majority is sold through stockists across the UK.
In addition, the farm’s dairy produces a range of yoghurts, butter, ghee and cream, with its Milk Shed still providing a supply of raw milk products for local customers.
“Controlling the whole process from start to finish is what enables us to produce this range of premium products for our customers,” he says. “And it starts with everything that our cows eat.”
While the herd grazes land at the 1,000-acre farm through the summer months, milk quality is managed throughout the year with a total mixed ration. Grass silage is the mainstay, with maize and whole crop triticale added to the ration.
“We aim for the highest quality grass silage, packed with energy,” explains Jonny. “We want high sugar, a high dry matter of around 35%, and we achieve this by taking multiple short cuts through the growing season combined with a maximum 24-hour wilt.”
Depending on the weather conditions, grass can be tedded immediately after mowing or simply spread from the farm’s front and rear 6m mower combination. This year, the farm will make silage from 180 acres.
Every three rows are raked up using a Kverneland 9590C Hydro rake supplied by local dealer TNS, with a neighbouring farmer collecting the crop using a forage wagon. The new rake uses a hydraulically raised and lowered rear axle, improving stability during transport thanks to a lower overall height that is achieved without the need to remove tine arms.
“I do like the swath presentation, and the rake’s ability to cleanly move grass into one neat swath,” he says. “We don’t shave the ground when mowing, so the longer stubble carries the swath making it much easier to rake. And this reduces the risk of any soil contamination with forage.”
“Ours is a system that affords time to build and roll the clamp, keeping us in control of the entire silage making process,” he says. “From the field to the shop, it’s all about quality.”