One of the oldest farming practices in the world is getting fresh impetus in the hands of young farmers.
Mark Williams is a raw kind of guy. That’s the way he likes it.
The Aylesbury dairy farmer, his wife Kelsey and children Reeve, 13, and Addison, 10, are managing a burgeoning business, Aylesbury Creamery, selling raw milk from the farm gate.
They have about 30 regular customers each day, and that is mostly from word of mouth.
Next year the family plans to test daily home deliveries, starting with Rolleston.
The market for raw milk is definitely growing Mark believes, and his sales are showing that.
“I think New Zealanders are going back to natural things these days. In fact, they are passionate about it,” he says.
“They like to know what is in what they eat and drink, and more importantly what is not in it.”
To keep up with demand, Mark and Kelsey milk 13 heifers a day, once a day. That’s up from 10 heifers when they started their raw milk business a year ago, and there are plans to further increase the herd.
The Williams family farm 160 hectares in Aylesbury. In most respects, it is a conventional dairy farm. They milk their main herd of 450 cows twice a day and that milk goes to the factory in Darfield for processing.
But it is the raw milk that sets the farm apart. There are only 20 farms in New Zealand authorised by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) to sell it.
Mark and Kelsey own one of them and in October 2016 they turned it into a stand-alone business, marketing their milk under the Aylesbury Creamery brand and starting a Facebook page to promote it. But it is not an easy process.
Far from it, as Mark explained: “We keep our 13 heifers separate from the rest of the herd and we milk them only once a day so that the milk we sell at the gate is fresh daily and also much creamier.
“Our team are a great bunch and are very skilled at milk harvesting. Rory, Casey and Jeanette are scrupulous about hygiene and this means we can be confident in producing a very high quality product.
Because raw milk isn’t pasteurised, it misses out on the process that would normally kill harmful bacteria. That’s why hygiene is so important at the milking stage.
“Every morning, before milking we wash the cows’ teats, udders and legs as well as our own hands and arms being covered with protective gloves and sleeves. And we are constantly recording the temperature of the milk. We need to get it down to six degrees immediately, then down to and maintained at 3 degrees in the purpose-built dispensing machine.”
Samples of the raw milk are also sent away for testing weekly.
“If that testing detects anything out of the ordinary, we stop production immediately,” Mark said.
But that is yet to happen.
There is a convenient automatic dispenser for gate sales
In fact, according to Mark, the biggest risk involved with raw milk is when it leaves his farm.
“The risk is that people don’t chill the milk on their way home. If it is not kept chilled it or is left on the bench for periods of time it can go off very quickly.”
Mark tries to help. He or Kelsey will explain what is required. They stress that the reusable glass bottles customers bring to have filled must be thoroughly clean.
They have even developed Aylesbury Creamery branded chiller bags which are sold with the milk and are reusable.
Mark won’t be drawn on the health properties of raw milk. All he will say is that his growing customer base likes it and some say they feel better for drinking it.
He will say, however, that the stricter hygiene practices, required by the MPI, Mark uses for his raw milk production has carried over to his conventional milking.
Summing up, Mark believes the move to raw milk has been successful — and that goes for all the family.
“I think what Kelsey, the kids and I have here is pretty close to the ideal for us. We have the best of both worlds. We have conventional farming, which is sustainable, and we have the opportunity to branch out into this more natural world and meet a growing demand for high quality natural products, produced sustainably.”
Mark and Kelsey plan to test home deliveries of raw milk to Rolleston early in 2018. If successful, they will extend daily deliveries to include West Melton, Darfield and Kirwee. Details will be posted on the farm’s Facebook page: Aylesbury Creamery.
In the meantime, farm gate sales will continue at 862 Aylesbury Road.