The Open Air Dairy
Anyone who drives along the A35 between Bridport and Dorchester cannot help but notice a huge herd of dairy cattle every so often in the fields on the right hand side just before the Little Bredy turnoff. For me seeing so many cattle grazing the fields brings to mind the time I was fortunate enough to see first hand the vast herds of wildebeest in the Masai Mara, Kenya.
At the recent Bridport Food Festival, I came across a stall selling cheddar cheese and couldn’t resist the opportunity to try a sample. Talking to the young woman behind the stall, Jenna Heinz, I found out that the amazing tasty cheddar was made form milk produced by that huge herd of cows I occasionally saw on my way to and from Dorchester. I could not believe it and when Jenna invited my wife and I to take our granddaughters along to the farm to find out more we jumped at the chance. Our visit to the Open Air Dairy took place last Tuesday and what an enlightening visit it was.
The Open Air Dairy was born out of friendship. Owners Tom Foot and Neil Gregg met at the University of Plymouth and it was there that a life long friendship began. It was the combination of their farming backgrounds and reading about the work of 1920s dairy farmer AJ Hosier, who wrote an important paper Open Air Dairying, that inspired their vision of how dairy farming could be done differently.
Together with their families they began the search for land where they could put their ideas into practice. After what seemed like a lifetime searching for a farm, Tom and Neil finally found 1,000 acres of arable land in Little Bredy and after ploughing their funds into cattle, they opened The Open Air Dairy in 2012, where Tom lives with his wife Kelly and four children, Neve, James, Beau and Ivy.
The Open Air Dairy Farm does thing differently. It is situated amongst the beautiful South Dorset Downs, where:
- Tom’s 600 cows live outside all year round and never venture inside to be milked.
Tom’s 600 plus dairy herd is made up of six different breeds, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Friesian, Jersey, Montbeliarde, and Norwegian Red.
On the day of our visit there were also 5 bulls running with the herd which over the past few weeks have been hard at work fathering next spring’s offspring.
- Tom uses two portable milking parlours to milk his ‘girls’ outside in the fields, where they thrive on easy living, which crucially, adds almost another 10 years onto their cows’ lifespan than intensively farmed cows.
- Tom’s dairy herd does not produce any slurry. All of the waste produced by the cows is naturally absorbed into the ground. As a result Tom has grown the topsoil by an average of over 3mm per year. Growing topsoil at these rates enables large quantities of carbon to be stored which outweighs the outpouring of methane. It is fair to say that The Open Air Dairy is a shining example of a carbon neutral way of farming.
- Tom even provides the 70 litres a day of water the cows consume using a portable water trough. Watching them come to the trough to drink we noticed that they always lick the surface of the water a couple of times before plunging in to gulp it down.
- Tom’s cows live a long very healthy life and it is rare that he has to call for services of the vet. Antibiotics are only administered if there is a genuine need, which thanks to the way the herd is managed very rarely occurs.
Speaking to Tom on the afternoon of our visit he told me: “Our system is low-stress and our animals are happier and live longer. Our cows live in harmony with the beautiful surroundings of the Dorset countryside. Grazing on grass and roaming the pastures, they live out all year round and the milking parlour comes to them, in which ever field they have wandered!”
I can certainly vouch for how healthy and contented the cows appeared to be. As we walked through the huge herd they were extremely calm and relaxed. There was no jostling and pushing to enter the in-field milking parlour and once they had been milked they skipped down the ramp to graze on fresh pasture topped up with Tom’s farm produced silage which they were having to be fed due to the limited amount of grass in the extremely parched fields.
Tom believes the benefits of his way of dairy farming are plain to see:
“We believe the cows are happier and healthier this way and we believe you can taste this happiness in every bite of our cheddar. We truly believe it is our unique location and gentle farming methods that makes our cheese taste so great.”
I could’t agree more, happy cows, grazing on a special terroir equal a really great tasting cheddar cheese. Tom’s cheese can be purchased at the following places in Bridport:
- Washingpool Farm Shop, North Allington, DT6 5HP
- Framptons of Bridport, East Street, DT6 3LF
- The Fridge, West St, DT6 3QP
- The Ropemakers Pub, West Street, DT6 3QP
Cattle, both wild and domesticated, have been part of the landscape for many thousands of years and as Tom’s method of farming illustrates clearly how for millennia they have contributed significantly to the production of the rich layer of topsoil which is so valuable for the growing of grass and other crops. The rich pasture that now makes up Tom’s farm is home to a vast array of wild flowers which supports numerous different insects, small mammals, ground nesting birds and an ever increasing number of top predators including several species of owl.
Just like the wildebeest I saw on the Masai Mara all those years ago Toms’ cows steadily migrate from field to field over three weeks to feast on fresh grass. By mimicking nature, Tom is in the process of producing an environment every bit as rich and diverse as the Masai Mara, and where he has led I hope others will follow.
Damage to the Mural
I was extremely saddened to see that the work of local young people, funded by local taxpayers, has been disrespected in this way. I am sure we all recognise the value of street art and I would be quite happy to talk to ‘taggers’ about where they could show their art without undermining the artistic efforts of others and I urge them to come forward and engage with us.
Whilst I can fully understand the disappointment and anger felt by many, I would love to meet the person or people responsible and discuss the positive possibilities that could come out of their rather negative actions to date.
On a more positive side it is great to see that the artists who created the two murals at St Mary’s are not deterred by the graffiti that has appeared. They have issued an open invitation to the community to help “heal the walls”.
Anyone can go along on Sunday 14th August between 4pm and 6pm to contribute colours, patterns, responses on the riverside mural, and then again on Friday 19th from 5pm to 7pm to make new work together on the Rights Respecting mural on the northern wall of the football ground. Participants are encouraged to bring a rug, maybe a picnic. There’ll be music and the artists will provide the paints. Their aim is to “create more art in a spirit of open mindedness and respect”.
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the artists involved and others , we have not managed to find the perpetrator(s) so far. As a result the Town Council felt we had no option but to involve the Police. Naturally, neither they nor the Council wants to make this a criminal matter and this can be avoided if the person or people responsible make contact urgently via [email protected]
Bridport ‘Musicathon’ 2022
This years ‘Musicathon’ was held on Saturday 11th June at two venues: the Bridport United Church, from 9.00am-5.00pm and on Bucky Doo Square between 10.00am-12.30pm – mainly for young musicians.
The format was similar to previous years with musicians, singers, performers, groups, schools and choirs being sponsored by relatives and friends to perform their choice of music to a public audience. Entry was free and non stop entertainments & refreshments were enjoyed at both venues throughout the day. Inside the church, 18 bands played in consecutive 15 minute slots and featured everything from solo acts to choirs and guitar to oboes.
The musicians who performed can be thought of as the part of an iceberg that is visible above the waves but an event such as this would not be possible without a small army people beavering away below the surface.
It was a real pleasure to be able to thank everyone for their efforts and formally hand over the cheques to Tracey Gent of Weldmar Hospicare and Cllr Sandra Brown on behalf of the Richard Ely Trust.
My thanks and congratulations to everyone involved.
Welcoming Bishop Rufus to Bridport
On Thursday morning, Anne and I had the pleasure of welcoming Right Reverend Rufus Laila, Assistant Bishop of Lainya of the Central Equatoria Province, South Sudan, and his wife Remi Joyce Laila to the Town Hall.
Rufus has been in the UK to attend the Lambeth Conference (July 26 – Aug 8) and was making a whistle stop tour of south west Dorset before flying home.
Afrer many years of civil war The Republic of South Sudan became the youngest country in the world and Africa’s 55th country on July 9, 2011. This overview produced by the by the World Bank, last updated in April 2022, gives an excellent overview of the country today.
The Fantasy Orchestra
The Fantasy Orchestra, a group of musicians based in Bristol and Paris, will be passing through Bridport in August as part of their annual bicycle tour.
Setting off from Cerisy-La-Foret in Normandy on 6 August, the group will pass through Saint Vaast La Hougue, Bridport’s twin town, before crossing the channel and continuing the tour through Dorset. The tour culminates with a gig in Bridport’s Buckydoo Square on Wednesday 17 August from 1:15 before the orchestra heads to South Wales to play at the Green Man festival.
The group, whose most recent gig in London saw 80 singers and instrumentalists fill the Union Chapel stage for their rendition of Radiohead’s ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ album. They’ll be out in smaller numbers for the bike tour, camping and playing gigs in pubs, bandstands and public squares, with the modest aim of achieving “world peace, one note at a time”. The Fantasy Orchestra is a community orchestra and choir open to anyone over 18 in Bristol (or Paris!) though many are professional musicians. They have an eclectic repertoire that covers film soundtracks, rock and pop favourites, and some more obscure treasures.
Whist here in Bridport they will be passing round the bucket to raise funds for my two charities, Bridport Youth and Community Centre and The Bank of dreams and Nightmares, so please try and get along to see them and take the opportunity to drop some cash into the bucket.
Many thanks to Bridport Town Council’s Paul Violet for the photographs of the beautifully mown cemetery. Paul tells me: “The parched conditions mean that there are only weeds and very little grass to cut, but it still has to be done”.
Guiding a mower and welding a strimmer is energy sapping at the best of times but in this heat it must be doubly so. I take my hat off to Paul for all his hard work in ensuring that the Bridport Cemetery continues to be an extremely well cared for place of peaceful tranquility.
And Finally – This Week’s Magic Tenner Focus
Clocktower Too – South Street
Businesses working with or supplying: Cafe Bean South St, RKL Tools, Bella’s, Refresh, The Bookshop, Wild and Homeless Books, Bridport Music Centre, Spiral Printing, Discount Furniture, Moss Motors, Longs Fish and Chips, Bridport Glass and Tiles, Red Brick Café, Footeprints, Fruits of the earth, Punch & Judy Bakery, PC Repairs, Gelateria Beppino, Gary Pitcher Locksmith, Hawa Barbers, Health Foods and more….
Ride – East Street
Businesses working with or supplying: Footeprints, Shed, Rawles, Darren Morgan Builders, Lumley & Wood Dentist, Hussey & Briggs and more….
Smith & Smith – West Street
Businesses working with or supplying: Footeprints, Leakers, Cilla & Camilla, Lavender Blue, Gemma s, Rawles, Things I like, Naturalife, Cafe Bean, Balsons, Steptoes, Moore than Tea , Livingstone Textiles, and more