Ivy House Farm, the Somerset dairy putting cows' welfare first

Date:09-05-2014 07:58:07 read:2

Ivy House Farm, the Somerset dairy putting cows' welfare first

In this week's 'Word of Mouth', Hermione Lister-Kaye visits an organic dairy in Somerset making the crème de la crème

Geoff Bowles: 'I just want to have a healthy, well-looked-after happy herd' Photo: James Arthur Allen

On the top of a bumpy hill above the Somerset valleys the Bowles family live with two pigs, five dogs, a rather unwelcoming goose named Greg – and 160 Jersey cows. Geoff Bowles, 55, is a fifth-generation farmer. 'We’ve managed to trace it back to the mid-19th century,’ he says.

Bowles started farming on the 180-acre Ivy House Farm near Beckington, Frome, in the early 1980s, when he had a small herd of 27 Friesians. But after years of struggling to compete with the larger dairies, which dominated the supermarket shelves, he decided to change tack and took on his uncle’s 20 Jersey cows in 1999. It was a risk. While Jersey milk is renowned for its creaminess, the cows that provide it have little value once their milking days are over (a Friesian carcass will fetch about £800 for beef). 'It was one of those situations where you can’t go on so we thought we’d just try anything,’ Bowles says.

In the early years Bowles would get up at 5am, milk the herd and then deliver the previous day’s milk, cream and butter, before coming home to milk the cows again, and to separate and cook the cream to remove enzymes that affect the flavour. At one point he was working a 20-hour day. 'It was tough in the beginning,’ he admits. His three children – Melissa, Amy and Darren – all helped out and his wife, Kim, who had previously worked for the MoD, did the admin.

Now Darren, 27, manages the day-to-day running of the farm, while Bowles (who has taken more of a back seat) and the 25 locals employed by the farm take on the daily milking, separation, packaging and delivery duties. The cows are milked once a day at 6am while eating their organic feed, which is grown on the farm. Then the 500 litres of raw milk is collected (the cows produce one million litres per year) and separated into milk and cream. 'The milk and cream flavour is significantly better if you do it while it is still warm,’ Bowles says. It is then put into cooling tanks, and the previous day’s milk is packaged by hand. The finished products are delivered to 150 cafes and farmshops, as well as 10 London stores, including Selfridges. It takes three days to get from cow to shelf.

The single daily milking is the main difference between Ivy House Farm and large industrial dairies. 'The once-a-day milking has really helped, our cows aren’t under any pressure here,’ Bowles says. 'We have several 10-year-olds on the farm and that is old for a milking cow.’ The family’s favourite cow is Harri, 10, a granny compared with cows in commercial dairies.


Another difference is the 'maternity ward’ in the centre of the farmyard where a small group of Jerseys are resting. Rows of week-old tan faces peer through a fence. 'They are the most inquisitive little things,’ Bowles says, laughing. Their cows are artificially inseminated with sexed semen to ensure only female calves are born. These are then raised on the farm and join the milking herd when they are two years old. Mothers are given 'maternity leave’ of three days before they go back to the milking parlour.

It is this concern about their animal welfare that appeals to buyers and customers. 'Geoff and his team at Ivy House genuinely care a lot about the health and wellbeing of their cows, and produce gorgeous-tasting products,’ Leah Anderson O’Loughlin, a buyer at Selfridges, says.

'I don’t want an Aston Martin or a holiday home,’ Bowles agrees. 'I just want to have a healthy, well-looked-after happy herd.’

*Organic Jersey milk, from £1.45 for 1 litre, organic double cream, £3.45 for 284g, organic clotted cream, £2.05 for 113g, from Selfridges (

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