Springstep Dairy - Happy Healthy Goats and Superb Products
Did you know that the average bottle/carton of milk travels 350 road miles before consumption? Did you also know that health professionals acknowledge goats’ milk as a healthy, whole food alternative to cows’ milk, and that it is nutritionally superior to soya and other milk alternatives?
We visited Bob and Sally Kirk at Springstep Dairy near Maldon and were delighted with the goats’ products available (including the most delicious ice cream), and the Dairy and Mundon Hall Farm itself.
It was a beautiful, early summer’s day when we visited. As we turned into the farm alpacas were contentedly enjoying the sunshine, and a well-planted and stocked lake sat proudly in front of Mundon Hall, a Victorian farm house built on the site of a monastery.
Sally met us and explained why Springstep Dairy had been established. Bob is a fourth generation dairy cow farmer and moved to the farm when he was a teenager. He was proud of his herd and had won many prizes but, in common with many other dairy farmers, income declined to unmanageable levels. Some very difficult decisions had to be made, and as tenant farmers it was particularly difficult for Bob and Sally as they had no capital vested in the farm property. But they loved the farm and in 2002 the prize-winning herd was sold and goats, mainly Saanen and Toggenburg, were purchased. But more investment was required: the money they had carefully set aside over the years for their retirement was invested in the state-of-the-art plant necessary for the new milking parlour and production dairy and cheesery.
Sally is the chief herdsperson and quite clearly loves the goats and takes their welfare very seriously, even though it has meant a drastic life-style change for her. She now spends less time tending to the aches and pains of Maldon residents than she used to – Sally is a qualified Sports Massage Therapist! (Bob and Sally’s son John is studying Osteopathy at NESCOTT and his fiancée Alys is a Postgraduate Medical Student. These goats are certainly in good hands!)
The animals spend some time in the fields but much of the time are housed in a huge one acre barn where nutrition can be strictly controlled and the goats can be protected from either the cold or sunburn on the udders. The barn provides a spacious and airy environment full of fresh straw, with plenty of room for jumping, running and chasing games, or a relaxing snooze! It was very obvious to us the goats were extremely happy in their surroundings.
The goats are fed daily on fresh silage laid beyond fencing so it is not soiled. Their feed is made on the farm. Non-grazed pasture is cut in the spring when nutrition levels are highest and rolled into a silage clamp. This is mixed with home-grown maize, fruit pulp nuts from a juicing factory, soya, pea-straw and grass nuts from Dengie Crop Driers. They are not fed wheat – this unsettles their stomachs and is better for customers who want a gluten-free diet. This all results in an extremely clean, highly nutritious feed.
Kidding occurs twice a year. The new-borns are fed naturally for a day or two and are then separated so that feeding can be monitored and regulated and problems from mastitis reduced. The kids are a delight for young and old alike! Bob and Sally will not tolerate poor husbandry nor cruel slaughter practices, so kids are not sold on as Sally cannot then monitor their welfare.
Back outside to the lagoon at the rear of the barn. Bob and Sally are pleased to see large populations of daphnia, pond weed and fish colonising and cleaning the water. Some 20 feet deep in the middle, Bob sometimes takes a swim in the lagoon, and they have plans to develop it as a wildlife haven. It could be pumped for irrigation, but so far this has proved unnecessary.
From here we could also see the petrified oak forest which is first mentioned in the Domesday Book. The gnarled, bare branches provide nesting sites for barn and tawny owls, and rabbits and foxes in the base of the trees.
Now to the processing areas of the dairy. The fully automated milking parlour is spotlessly clean, and every batch of milk is laboratory tested to ensure it is pure and clean for consumption. Along to the production dairy where, amidst scrupulously clean stainless steel, milk is pasteurised. Some is further processed and mixed for the semi-skimmed and skimmed market and more goes on to make soft and hard cheese, cream, yoghurt and ice-cream, all flavoured with natural ingredients.
And then it’s taste time in the small farm shop next to the dairy. We sampled the milk, seriously thick cream, delicious yoghurt, a range of scrumptious cheeses and some of the best ice-cream we have ever tasted. Needless to say, several purchases were made!
But our tour was not over. Just behind the trees next to Mundon Hall is the tiny St. Mary’s Church, famous for its weather-boarded timber framed tower and 16th century porch with carved wooden spandrels, said to be amongst the finest examples in the country. Sadly the church is locked, but funding has been secured and renovation is planned.
This article was first published in the Autumn 2006 (issue 4) issue of Healthy Life, Mind body & Soul magazine.
NB: Sadly Springsep Dairy closed in 2012
We would like to acknowledge extracts from “A Dairy Farmer Gets The Goat” by Peter Marett, published in the Essex Protector. If you are interested in protecting our rural countryside visit www.cpressex.org.uk to see how you could help.