Tell us about Plurenden Manor Farm and the people behind it...
We really are a family farm here at Plurenden Manor Farm! It’s a mum, dad, two sisters and two brothers team, as well as our partners and children. We have been here for 10 years now, but we have always been farming. We moved to Plurenden because it is larger than our previous farm, and that means that the whole extended family can work together here.
What's the main focus of the business today?
We were forced to make a decision a few years ago because milk prices fell so drastically that they didn’t even cover the cost of production any more. We had to diversify, basically. Processing the milk ourselves and adding value on to our farm seemed the way to go. So now we offer our fresh milk straight from the farm, as well as a local delivery service, delicious butter and a small farm shop. After all, farmers are here to feed people, right?
What is it that makes your cows’ milk so special?
Our milk is pasteurised but not homogenised, so that the rich cream still rises to the top. We believe that the creamiest tastiest milk comes from happy healthy cows. Our cows are a mixed herd of pedigree Holstein Friesians (black and whites and red and whites), Dutch Fleckveihs and a few other breeds. Plurenden cows are milked twice a day, at 5am and 3pm, all year round. In the summer, they graze in the fields and in the winter they are sheltered and fed forage grown on our farm. The calves are reared at home too, until they are old enough to join the herd.
Do you think there might be a Plurenden cheese or two in the future?
We have had a go at soft cheeses and I may get round to making cheese on a large scale at some point, but we would need to extend our current processing room to accommodate regular cheese making. I would also need some extra help, as all the work is done by the family at the moment.
What are the toughest challenges facing British dairy?
The biggest challenge for farmers in all sectors is the constant uncertainty of prices. We are dictated to by large processors, and are unable to set the price that our products are actually worth. Most family farms have had to diversify to stay relevant, but many have chosen to sell up. There are only 9,000 dairy farms left in the England now.
Misconceptions are definitely a challenge we face too. We work long hours all year round and the welfare of our livestock is very important to us. Educating people to see this can be a challenge. The thing to remember is that farmers are here to feed people, and looking after the environment and our livestock is part of that circle.
At a more grass roots level, staffing can be another issue. It’s become much more difficult to find people who are keen to work long hours and outdoors.
Tell us of your proudest achievements to date at the farm...
If I’m honest, I think that our proudest achievement has to be that as a family we stick together. We have also won three awards recently for our produce, including the dairy category at the 2018 Taste of Kent Awards; and the dairy class and food product of the year award for our Farmhouse Butter at the 2019 Taste of Kent Awards. These made us all feel quite speechless.
Tell us a little about your farm shop...
Our small farm shop is run via an honesty box and visitors can buy our whole milk, semi skimmed milk, skimmed milk, mini milk (which is perfect for milkshakes), double cream and delicious butter here. It’s open seven days a week and, in addition to our dairy, has our hens’ eggs, Kentish ice cream, sweet and savoury pies, chutneys, jams and seasonal vegetables. Make sure to bring some change to make a purchase and leave your money in the tin when you visit. We also attend a number of markets in the area, so there are plenty of opportunities to buy from us.
Are there any plans for the future that you’re particularly excited about?
Our plans are to continue to grow our doorstep milk round - we deliver in a ten mile radius from Plurenden Manor Farm in glass pints or plastics. We would also like to be in more retail outlets. It would be great to also sell more of our butter and cream, and generally to continue to make the farm more financially sustainable for the family and the cows to stay here.