Set in the Norfolk countryside, Old Hall Farm could provide the blueprint for anyone wanting to build a small-scale dairy business which offers something different, showcasing the quality of milk produced by our native dairy – or even dual-purpose – breeds.

Rebecca and Stuart Mayhew took delivery of their first Jersey cow in 2016 having bought a farm with no dairy and learning milking from watching YouTube! Although the Mayhew family have farmed in Woodton in Norfolk since the mid-1940s, starting with a small suckler cow herd, chickens for egg production and pig rearing as well as farming over 500 acres of arable land – and despite being called Dairy Farm – dairying was never part of the picture. And although Stuart has always worked in farming, Rebecca had been working as a chartered surveyor and auctioneer.

On holiday in Scotland in 2016, spending time on a friend’s dairy unit, the couple fell in love with the idea of having their own herd of Jersey cattle. Rebecca says: “Those little brown cows just crept into my heart.” Their first cow, Freya, arrived shortly after, together with three heifers. Using a portable milker – and YouTube tutorials – they started milking, but initially simply gave the milk away, until friends urged them to think about opening their own farm shop. Rebecca says: “We opened the shop, milking three cows to begin with, and we struggled to keep up with demand.”

Having progressed to milking 20 cows, still using a portable milker, Stuart and Rebecca moved to Old Hall a year ago where they have put in a 60-year old four-abreast parlour.

Cows and calves together

A particular USP of Old Hall Farm is that, while being milked, cows keep their calves with them for at least the first six months of their life. Rebecca explains: “Stuart and I had a conversation when our first cow came to calve, and he said ‘you know you are going to have to take the calf away if you want to milk the cow don’t you?’ My reaction was to question why the cow couldn’t feed her own calf – after all, I’m pretty sure that’s what udders are for. So, although we didn’t know of anyone else doing it, we decided to follow the lead of the cows and let them keep their calves with them.”

Mostly, calves are weaned at six months but sometimes to ensure sufficient milk for milking, they are weaned overnight at three months, but the calf still stays in a stall alongside its mother. The cow is then milked in the morning and her calf returned to her to feed for the rest of the day. The Mayhews now milk 30 cows and budget on having 10 litres per cow, per day.

Health benefits

All Old Hall milk is sold direct to the public and is sold raw (unpasteurised). Rebecca explains: “People are becoming more aware that heat treatment knocks most of the goodness out of milk and our customers tell us about the health benefits they enjoy from drinking raw milk – they say they feel better and find that it is beneficial for conditions such as eczema and asthma. We also test regularly for the A2 factor and we have customers buying A2 milk who have waited 20 years or more to enjoy milk, cream and yoghurt. We now have Michelin-starred chefs buying our dairy products and many of our customers come because they like the fact that they can see and learn about the cows which deliver their milk.”

The Old Hall farm shop is open every day and there is also a postal service for customers further afield. In addition to the dairy sales, Old Hall offers meat from its Large Black, Tamworth and Oxford Sandy & Blacks and from its native Riggit and Red Galloway cattle and its Jersey cross Riggits.

What is A2 milk?

About 80% of the total protein content of milk is casein, and milk contains several different types – the two most common being A1 beta-casein and A2 beta-casein which make up about 30% of the protein. Milk from breeds that originated in northern Europe is generally high in A1 beta-casein, while milk that is high in A2 beta-casein is mainly found in breeds that originated in the Channel Islands and southern France – these include Jersey and Guernsey cattle. Conventional milk contains both A1 and A2 beta-casein and can affect people with a dairy intolerance. Such people often find that they can digest A2 milk and dairy products. Cows are DNA tested to identify those which produce only A2 milk.